Simon Steensland is a rather renowned (some might say infamous) Swedish avant-prog musician who has built up quite a respectable catalogue over the past two and a half decades. I have several of his albums in my collection, but as it turns out most of them are still on the pile of CDs I have yet to listen to. Experiences with Led Circus and The Phantom Of The Theatre from 1999 and 2002 respectively were a mixed pleasure. These experiences and Steensland's reputation in general caused classifications like 'Not suitable for driving the car', Not suitable in the office' (which I share with others) and definitely 'Not suitable for the living room with the family present'. And so I tend to pick other albums when selecting something to listen to ...
Interestingly, Steensland's last CD had liner notes that say: “Besides making music that no-one wants to listen to, I also compose and perform music for plays that no-one wants to watch”. So he does have a sense of humour, something that I appreciate and also the new CD A Farewell To Brains has a rather funny title, I think. It was recorded with people like Arvid Pettersson (piano), Morgan Ågren (drums), Alexandra Zetterberg (voice), Einar Baldursson (guitar solo) and many others including a bunch of female singers. Let's find out what it's all about.
It opens with the almost 17 minute long Schrödinger's Cat. The cat may, or may not be dead. Likewise you may or may not like the music. Any which way, the piece kicks off with a rather uncompromising style that draws on Univers Zero, King Crimson, RIO in general and appears to have an accordion (or something that sounds like one) rather prominently in the instrumentation. At least initially. Rather quickly shredding guitar takes over and some listeners will surely give in before we have reached the third minute due to the total musical mayhem as some may classify this near-cacophonic complexity. Around 4 minutes things slow down a bit. We enter a spooky, wandering and near-atmospheric piece with a dominant sax. There is Mellotron towards the end before the piece ends with vague choral vocals.
Then comes the short Elephant which is an instrumental complex piece that reminds of King Crimson and could have lasted longer if you ask me.
The 13 minute long One provides more difficulties, opening with Oriental sounding strings and percussion instruments and truly tormented female vocals that flow into extremely uncomfortable sounds and Crimson-esque patterns. Especially from 4 minutes on I'm strongly reminded of Larks Tongues and Red-era work. The piece then builds up in intensity with all instruments and singers building up to a climax around 10 minutes that is relieved into calm piano and guitar/bass.
Fader Vår is another short piece that brings a Swedish version of the known prayer sung by several female singers over calm piano. The most accessible piece of the album, for sure, even though things grow creepier and more dissonant towards the end.
Another 17 minute piece closes the album. The Idiot starts with vibraphone and accordion, goes through some circus music leanings (something that RIO acts appear to have a perverse inclination to), has a lot of dissonance and tension and then eventually culminates in an infernal choir and a very creepy ending.
As expected this is not an easy album and I think it will appeal only to a rather restricted audience with a very open mind for experiments, weird sounds and uncomfortable musical experiences. If you are not in that category: avoid. Everyone else: proceed with care. Personally I have to say that this was the Steensland release that I've enjoyed most, so far. But then, as I said, I have a couple of releases to go...
***- Carsten Busch (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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