It’s either comically ironic or depressingly appropriate, I haven’t decided yet. But midway through DiS’s two-week attempt to simultaneously indulge and break down the framework of musical stereotype that has somehow resulted in 'Nordic' becoming a viable critical adjective, Efterklang’s keyboardist Anna Bronsted releases the most Nordic record of all time. Our Broken Garden, she calls herself, and she’s part glacial, cathedral Icelandicism, part Swedish whimsy and part elegantly cascading Danish orchestration à la Slaraffenland (and, of course, Slaraffenklang).
Inspired by Lars Von Trier’s (who else?) 'graceful and overwhelmingly dreadful' Antichrist, she wishes to 'carry and bury you in the golden sea' (‘Seven Wild Horses’) of her echoing, pastoral imagination. This, friends, is what René Redzepi might hum whilst foraging for wild beach mustard by the light of the Aurora Borealis, it is the soundtrack to Christian Købke’s 1838 ‘View of Lake Sortedam’, it is Lawrence Buell’s The Environmental Imagination sculpted into melodies that only a country with a Scandinavian population density could create.
All this is, obviously, the worst kind of bullhickey. But be it a product of racism, self-perpetuating marketing, the response to her 2008 debut, the intervention of Denmark’s now-renowned ‘Rock Council’ or, indeed, just Bronsted’s own cod-ecophilosophy ('when I was making the album, I had visions of lush green rainforests, lakes and rivers') the Nordic narrative is the elephant in the room here, whether one likes it or not. It all fits just a little too well to be dismissable: Golden Sea is an unashamedly ethereal collection of songs about water and death, for fuck’s sake. Opener ‘The Departure’ sounds positively Elvish, like that bit in LOTR when Liv Tyler washes away the Nazgûl.
Actually, the elephant in the room is probably Björk, but I can’t bring myself to call Björk an elephant. Plus, and let’s get this out of the way now, a couple vocal mannerisms on display on ‘The Fiery and Loud’ and ‘Share’ aside, Our Broken Garden sound nothing like Björk. Well, nothing like recent Bjork anyway.
Anyway, strip away the connotations and you’re left with a record with a stack of reference-points that actually get a bit of daylight during the winter. ‘Garden Grow’, one third of Golden Sea’s surprisingly pulsing core, sounds like Feist’s ‘My Moon My Man’ plus a whole bunch of reverb and a from-nowhere guitar solo that I don’t get but quite dig. ‘The Burial’, another third, builds a bit like an early, more cheesily arranged Arcade Fire track. And on the insanely textured vocal performance that is closer ‘The Darkred Roses’, Bronsted makes sense of the most pertinent comparison of all – she is a New Age, twigs-in-hair cousin to Rio En Medio’s gorgeous found-sound electronica.
Which is to say, this is a record flecked with loveliness. ‘Seven Wild Horses’ the most complete example, a delicate summary of what’s gone before it accompanied by almost chillwave-esque bubbles – which melt, indeed, into the sound of hooves.
But it’s completeness that’s the problem: like the lissom girl in the willowy dress who reveals herself, in conversation, to be a bit of a cringer – think Britt Ekland in The Wicker Man – Golden Sea has an irritating habit of spoiling glittering openings with cliché and chorus. “Where did I bury my heart?” asks ‘The Burial’ a lot too many times. Perhaps the answer lies ‘In the Lowlands’ (zing) which decides to bury synth, harmony and atmosphere alike under the weight of a diva’s refrain.
It’s this sort of thing that would seem to represent Our Broken Garden’s second album forward-step, lacking as it was from debut When the Blackening Shows. Which would appear to suggest that Anna Bronsted is best left floating in space – it suits her a hell of a lot better than it suits most. Good thing she comes from icy, crystalline, watery, dreamy, pagan, massive-skied etc. etc. Nordic-land then, right?
6Sam Kinchin-Smith's Score