There’s a moment, almost exactly nine minutes into ‘Telos/Agartha’ – track five on Agartha, the fourth album from Finland’s Oddarrang – when, for perhaps the first time, the whole thing truly takes off. It’s as if the preceding 36 minutes, as vital and full of guile and craft as they have been, have been building for this moment of crashing, gauzy guitar and brass-laden abandon. Moments of genuine euphoria in contemporary music are disconcertingly rare, but this is one such. Without doubt one of 2016’s most life-affirming and dizzying musical calling cards.
And yet Agartha begins in a different vein entirely, almost on a different planet, as ‘Aletheia’ swells from a single synthesised bass note into a beautiful cacophony. Calling to mind the power which Sigur Ros are known for (but have sadly misplaced in recent times), along with the power of William Basinski’s brilliant way with a single repeated orchestral phrase, it is the kind of opening statement which marks albums out as having the potential to be truly special. Records often disappoint. Not this one.
Oddarrang’s compositions straddle the genres of jazz, modern classical music and post-rock. Pieced together by drummer Olavi Louhivouri, they are at once both intricate and playful. The quality never dips. ‘Central Sun’s hypnotic groove, the cello of Osmo Ikonen dovetailing beautifully with Ilmari Pohjonen’s trombone; ‘Mass I-III’ calls to mind something of the spectral beauty of the best work of William Ryan Fritch in it’s opening foray, before something of the understated beauty of Mogwai comes into view in its midsection. Latterly, as the acoustic and synthesised instrumental elements crescendo in complete synchronicity, the territory of improvised jazz is most definitely entered. Not for the first time, the sense that this band must be a glorious proposition live comes to mind.
‘Admiral Byrd’s Flight’ is carried along by a simple yet addictive guitar figure, beautifully toned. The combination it forms with the brass as the song develops calls to mind underrated British band Rumour Cubes. At points the flight seems to be losing control, but conversely this shows the band at their most taut and measured. As the synth driven crescendo gives way to a prog-leaning climax, the elastic nature of Oddarrang’s skills, and the way that they are able to transmit the compositional nuances of Louhivouri’s vision so effectively come fully into focus once more. It may be relatively short-lived, but it’s a real album highlight.
And then comes ‘Telos/Agartha’ which by this point reveals itself as the logical extension of the capabilities and ambition of this enticing artistic endeavour. If ever a song was worth the repeated offering of 11 minutes of your life then this is the one. The record closes with ‘Age of Cronos’ a shorter, but no less intense workout which encapsulates everything great about this wondrous band. There’s a chordal synth/orchestral section, something of a crescendo as the full band gets a workout, and then it gradually fades away, as the same foreboding synth bass tone which began the record is brought to the fore once again.
Released on the ever-wonderful Edition Records, it’s the kind of album that restores a moribund set of ears into the the place of loving music and all it has to offer, once again. It really does have the potential to draw in fans of multiple genres around the love of one band. Oddarrang, I salute you.
8Haydon Spenceley's Score