When ‘Airy met Fairy – 'Esprit de Corps' (album)
If the Oxford English Dictionary ever takes it upon itself to redefine minimalism it could do worse than to offer up When ‘Airy met Fairy as its primary reference point. The Luxembourg-based (itself unusual) duo of Luxembourger Mike Koster and Icelander Thorunn Egilsdottir are renowned for recording their albums in Mike Koster’s abandoned flat in Luxembourg City, with only the floorboards and a few chairs for company. And you thought the place was full of bankers, tax evaders and Euro-politicians. Think again.
Their 2018 debut album ‘Glow’ was stripped back but since then they been planing away at those floorboards so much they must be able to see into the apartment below.
When I reviewed ‘Glow’ I pointed to the predominately acoustic instrumentation, featuring soft strings, simple piano melodies, accordion, xylophone, harmonica, harmonium and possibly even a theremin. As for Thorunn’s voice she was a mix of singers from Regina Spektor to the British-Israeli Lail Arad while the songs tended to concern more complex matters of the heart than your average “he’s left me but I still love him and I hate myself for it” monologue.
Translated literally from the French expression ‘Esprit De Corps’ means ‘spirit of the body’; quite a grand concept which invites their traditional emotive melancholy.
Thorunn often sounds like she’s taking part in a séance and straight away, on the first track, ‘That’s my rock n roll’ this is one of those times. You can barely tell what she’s saying. The overdubbed voices could be in another world, while various noises off, and an analogue synthesiser (I think) add to the mystique.
The second track, ‘Going to a Town’ is a Rufus Wainwright song which was recorded without their having any knowledge of what Wainwright’s original track sounds like. Mike Koster says, “I insisted on not hearing the original until it's done. I wanted to stay a musical virgin in order to get involved in a creative way.” To be honest, I don’t know how you do that, do you just write the tune from the lyrics?
In any event they improve on Wainwright’s depressing anti-Bush rant as Thorunn demonstrates a more strident vocal than we are used to from her while also actually maximising the instrumentation rather than minimalising it on this occasion. And the song ends up sounding pretty much the same. How good is that?
Here’s’ a tip WAMF. If you like covering political rants, try Little Scream’s ‘Dear Leader’ next time, one of the songs of 2019 and obvious in its target while remaining as unknown in Europe as Laurel Sprengelmeyer unaccountably is.
Billed as ‘a dimly flickering ode to those we cherish’, the opening lines of ‘Home’ seem to reprise the honest mother-to-daughter soliloquy ‘Daughter’, a lullaby from Thorunn to her offspring on the ‘Glow’ album. The tune is stronger here than it usually is with WAMF, and just a little more tinkering with it could make it chart material.
'Another Year’ again shows their propensity to variety with intense common time percussion and a bass guitar you don’t often hear leading the track in combination with some masterly self harmonising from Thorunn.
All change again for ‘Down in slow motion’ in which Thorunn regains that unique, alluring voice of hers which figured so highly on ’Glow’. Again, the selection of instrumentation is just so. Simple percussion – just a hi-hat and shaker I think – underscore a variety of weird but suggestive sounds which include what could be the horn of a cruise liner leaving port.
‘On Your Own Again’ chronicles loneliness and alienation to various hip-hop and other, innovative beats and mellotron backing while the string-laden ‘It was love’ returns to the simple lament for unrequited love of the opening track.
When I saw the title of the next track - ‘I’ - I thought something must be missing. Zlatan, perhaps? Something told me this track was going to be different and indeed it is, as after Thorunn ranges over being pulled out of bed with a sore head, body parts, flames and a damaged trap door all in one line, it drifts even further into the stratosphere, to, again, one of those devastatingly simple beats they manage to conjure up using whatever implements they can convert into percussion.
‘Blanket of Sorrow’ was released as a Christmas single at the tail end of last year with the infamous 1970s Luxembourg flat the setting as Thorunn cooked a lonely Christmas Dinner in the video. It seems strange to be reviewing it again in May but what still stands out is how Thorunn’s vocal, her own harmonies and the keyboards almost merge into one.
‘Once’ is a more direct melody which winds around complex synths and trap beats. ‘Under the snow’ was reviewed as the most recent single, not long ago. Its mysterious lyrics are complemented by another jettisoning of the minimalist philosophy in the latter part of the song.
Penultimate track, ‘Inside Your Lungs Superstar’ ridicules our dystopian, digital reality to a military beat and a xylophone while the final one, ‘Under the Rainbow’ is the most experimental one on the album, with no definable tune to it. One day, someone will find one, somewhere under that rainbow.
I’ve said before that some people, including critics, will not easily adapt to WAMF, their trip hop-lite style or their very short tracks, most of which are barely more than a couple of minutes long. But what these 13 tracks prove to me is simply that you can say a lot in just a few words, a handful of well-chosen instruments, and genuine intimacy and esprit de corps between the writers and performers.
Nordic Music Review 7/10
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