Parades is the highly anticipated second album by Denmark s Efterklang, the follow up to their underground hit of 2004, Tripper. Comprising 11 majestic, otherworldly pop songs, Parades manages to be both magnificently ambitious and engagingly intimate; a breathtaking panorama of sound with few clear antecedents. Music with no boundaries. In a parallel universe, songs like Mirador and Caravan would be number one forever...Though the music that became Parades was recorded concurrently with the critically acclaimed (and already collectible) Under Giant Trees mini-album that preceded it in April, the latter was essentially a summation of songs the band had pieced together on tour in 2005. Parades is cut from a different cloth: this is all new material spun from raw ingredients, carefully stitched and lovingly embroidered with fine detail. If you let yourself be enveloped, this living tapestry could take years to unpick.Childhood friends Casper Clausen, Mads Brauer and Rasmus Stolberg grew up on the small Danish island of Als, close to the German border. Fuelled by youthful ambition, the trio moved to Copenhagen where they were joined by Rune Molgaard and Thomas Husmer, forming Efterklang in December 2000. Early on, the band instituted a self-sufficient working method that they still apply to everything they do: writing, recording, producing and organizing every element of their music and performance from their Copenhagen bunker.With the release of Tripper in 2004, Efterklang established themselves as a band apart. The record mixed multilayered vocals, electronic rhythms and string arrangements into a series of emotionally charged orchestral movements containing grand romantic flourishes. Tripper stands as the fastest selling debut album in The Leaf Label s history, and Efterklang went on to become one of Denmark s best loved groups (Under Giant Trees debuted at number one on their home country's singles chart). Work on Parades began in late 2005 with a series of simple song sketches. Then, they began to develop. The recording itself took 18 intense months and involved more than 30 guest musicians, including a string quartet, a brass quintet and three separate choirs. The band describes their writing and recording method as one long process of sculpturing; adding, stretching or subtracting the pieces of each song, finding the right melodies to guide the different pieces and instrumentation of it all. The album title refers to this approach; the notion being that each song is an assemblage of separate celebratory events, brought together as a accomplished whole. As the band describes it, We like the idea that these songs are a huge parade moving past the listener each section creating a new experience, an individual room of a house. Yet all the elements fit together, so you get a sense of the entire structure as the elements shift and coalesce. Unlike previous recordings, the band relied less on digital techniques and went for a palatial sound by recording in large rooms. A boys' choir and a church organ were recorded in a church, while other instruments were recorded in their studio bathroom and hallway; others in an echo chamber. Darren Allison (who worked on My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, and Ladies and Gentlemen... by Spiritualized records that surely need no introduction) mixed the album on analogue equipment with Efterklang s Mads Brauer, distinguishing the minutiae of sound while keeping the bigger picture of each song firmly in focus. Parades features similarly lavish artwork to Under Giant Trees, by Danish artists Hvass & Hannibal and UFEX. Like a day-glo Hieronymus Bosch, the design carries through the musical idea of minuscule detail on an epic scale.
The Leaf Label
the only thing that fits into a pigeonhole is a pigeon,” my colleague told me last week. I’m not really sure what that means, but if it means that labels aren’t always helpful in describing things such as music, then he was right. Efterklang are post-rock, so they say. The simple definition of post-rock, courtesy of Wikipedia and Simon Reynolds, is “using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes.” That definition works fine for Slint and Mogwai and Godspeed and the like, but “rock instrumentation” must surely include guitars, and there’s barely a hint of guitar on Parades—well, there is a little acoustic at the end, but that might even be a banjo. (Rock was not built on the power of the banjo.) Besides, any guitars that are here are swamped by the more prominent use of about four hundred other instruments, various wind or stringed-objects, and just as many unidentifiable creations of robot, machine, or computer. Do violins and wind chimes and oboes and mechanical seagulls count as rock instrumentation?
So let’s leave labels aside just now and just focus on the music. Parades is an exquisite sounding record, with so much intricate sonic detail that it demands a good pair of headphones. Initially I wondered whether it might suffer from the same problem as Bjork’s Volta—being beautifully rich in sound, but lacking in things like melody. Luckily, it’s a real grower and, after a while, the post-rock tag actually does make some kind of sense. Parades has the complex time-signatures and shifting movements of Slint; it has the genuine dynamic force of moving from really quiet to really loud, like Mogwai; it has the building melodrama of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It just doesn’t have the guitars.
Instead, listen to the voices in your headphones. Efterklang use the hushed lead vocals of Thomas Sjoberg or Linda Drejer Bonde, sometimes together, as well as all-male and all-female choruses, and the grand orchestration of Sigur Ros. Of all the memorable moments on the album—and it is an album of moments, rather than tunes—one of the most affecting is on “Blowing Lungs Like Bubbles.” Over shuffling brushes, a morose accordion, and a quivering violin, a whispered lead vocal is balanced by an unbearably sad, gentle wail by another singer who seems to be on the verge of a breakdown. It doesn’t last long, thankfully, because it’s heartbreaking. Although Sjoberg and Bonde do appear to be singing in English, it’s never clear enough to decipher the story behind each song. More often, the voices are used like another instrument, as in the intro to “Illuminant” where multiple choruses of aahing and yawning swell together into a massive, rumbling wave before giving way to quietly tinkling piano and the promise of another swell. Frequently I imagine these quiet periods are played by small animals, like mice, let loose over the piano top.
Similarly, “Horseback Tenors” begins with little birds hopping all over the strings. Then the chorus joins in and the reclaimed string section builds into an epic mid-section, which becomes even more epic when the brass players awaken and a marching beat arrives, melding everything into a joyous, striding finale. Except it’s not a finale because it fades and disintegrates and is parachuted back to earth by a foghorn bassline. This is what saves Parades from being a predictable journey where every rise and fall is anticipated. It really has to be played as a 49-minute album in full because the peaks and troughs are distributed across that timeline, not the timeline of each individual track. “Frida Found a Friend” peaks after three minutes of meandering, and then spends a minute and a half recovering from the shock. Quieter periods may last 20 seconds or four minutes, building momentum or easing tension, climaxing or not and then building again.
For the actual finale, closer “Cutting Ice to Snow” starts with Sjoberg and a backing vocalist imitating whalesong so slowly that you have to remember to breathe before the album dies. It’s rejuvenated by the high-end of a piano and that aforementioned banjo, which conspire to finish the album with a sense of contented resolution. Parades, both restrained and wildly dramatic, gently touching and warmly enveloping, is not a record that sits comfortably with convenient labels. Instead, let’s just say that it’s as compelling as a winding ride through an unexplored mountain range: with scenery of size, light and dark skies, and a map that no one can read.