Music Reviews
Smalhans

Lindstrøm Smalhans

(Smalltown Supersound) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

The cover of Smalhans is an ambiguously dour portrait, suggestive of dramatic intimacy, of ambivalence, of tension – and it couldn’t be more misleading. Just nine months after Lindstrøm’s previous record Six Cups of Rebel’s well-intentioned but hubristically over-ambitious attempts to widen his palette, the producer stays well within his comfort zone on Smalhans. Each of its six tracks is named after a traditional Norwegian dish: the temptation to make the quip that this is his “meat and potatoes” record is irresistible.

Lindstrøm recently told PlayGround that on this record, he “wanted to make the songs as clean, simple and structured as possible”, and that it was made “using Logic presets and very basic sounds/drums”. It’s true; in terms of textures, there’s nothing here that Lindstrøm hasn’t done before – but his modesty in describing it as simplistic sells its immersive power way short (you can imagine the chagrin of his label representatives).

It’s entirely possible to listen to the tracks without really sensing their intricacies, as unobtrusive exercises in build and release – as great “study music”, perhaps. It’s more that Lindstrøm isn’t so concerned with showmanship: compare the record’s compactness to the elaborate suspense and climax of his magnum opus, 2008’s Where You Go I Go Too. Smalhans shares a lot of overlap with the album, in its synth tones, percussion, even harmonic motifs – echoes of it can be traced in every track. The main difference is that it’s scaled back to six tracks, all between four-and-a-half and six-and-a-half minutes long. The peaks don’t hit you as hard, but they’re every bit as carefully-formed.

In fact the most elaborate track is also the (marginal) standout. Listen closer to Ęg-gęd-ōsis and you’ll realise that no two bars are quite the same; textures shift imperceptibly, staccatos and legatos intermingle, octaves ascend and then fall away. Perhaps most cleverly, you may notice that what at first sounds firmly four-on-the-floor in fact transitions between measures of fourteen and twelve, adjusting for intensity.

Lindstrøm’s classically-trained ear for chord structures gives him another edge as a producer. At times it’s as if he’s toying with your harmonic ear, playing with the idea of a perfect cadence or a modulation into a satisfying major key, then eluding it; Fāār-i-kāāl, for example, is an exercise in sustaining this trick. Another of his signature moves is the way he allows pitches to ascend with palpable excitement – the most indulgent example is towards the end of Vōs-sākō-rv, which grows giddily into the upper registers and spirals off into high-frequency stratospheres, until the bass plunges back in and Lindstrøm prepares for another stunt.

Smalhans won’t be the most memorable record of the year, but that’s partly because its great strength is its subtlety, which makes it constantly refreshing. It doesn’t push many boundaries, but on the evidence of Six Cups of Rebel, that may (for the time being) be a good thing. While I seem to have described it rather pragmatically as an economic, consistent, finely-tuned work, it’s best not to spend too long pinning down the details – just let yourself float away with the space-disco.