Monday, June 07, 2010

The soft beating


For the majority of her set, it's a case of being unable to see the forest for the twee with Heather Woods Broderick. Everything is couched in such slight, delicate terms that it feels like having your ear gently tickled with a feather - in theory faintly soothing, but in practice and over time mildly irritating. But her switch to keyboards, dulled beats and electronic fuzz for the finale signposts a welcome shift away from the well-trodden paths of singer-songwriterdom and into more interesting virgin territory, in which her actual and musical voice suddenly seem more distinctive.

Broderick's work isn't done there, though. She's followed in her brother Peter's footsteps in becoming a touring member of headliners Efterklang. Indeed, far from being a peripheral contributor, the "little lady" - as she's referred to by frontman Casper Clausen (but we'll excuse him on the grounds of being a non-native speaker) - has an integral role in bringing to life their latest album Magic Chairs.

The last time the Danish troupe found themselves in this parish, just down the road at the Bullingdon, they were on tour in support of second LP Parades, a record which they've noteably performed with their homeland's National Chamber Orchestra. Judging on the reception they get, that show obviously won them plenty of admirers - much to the evident joy of a group who describe themselves (accurately) as "nice and friendly people" and who spend the evening with faces fixed in permagrins. None more so than Clausen, who expresses his delight at achieving the lifelong ambition of having drumsticks with his band's name on them, which (he says) take him back to playing Guns 'N' Roses covers as an eight-year-old and which he subsequently raps against the over-stage scaffolding to supplement Thomas Husmer's percussion.

Magic Chairs, Efterklang's first release for the resurgent 4AD, finds them making a pitch for wider recognition - albeit very much on their own terms. Far from being muted or abandoned, experimentation and invention are actively harnessed in the service of songs which seem like organic and perfectly fused wholes, sufficiently linear to hold mainstream appeal but revelling in their own eccentricities. The whole album exudes an inviting warmth and humanity that flatly contradicts the convenient oft-regurgitated stereotype of Scandinavian music as chilly and austere. The closest touchstones, should you want some, would probably be Anathallo or Grizzly Bear, with whom they'll be performing a Serpentine Session in London at the end of June.

The occasional snatches of their leftfield electronica-with-a-heartbeat past (which present an opportunity to show off their new light blocks beneath synthesiser and laptop) are a close match for the new material, but set closer and album highlight 'The Soft Beating' says it all - Efterklang wield a cushioned clout that leaves you dazed. The name, incidentally, roughly translates as "resonance" - and resonate is exactly what their live show does, long after they've packed up and moved on to lay subtle waste to another town.

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