It’s awfully hard to walk the precarious tightrope walk between sacred cow adoration and outright plagiarism. The Copenhagen avant-electro group When Saints Go Machine succeeds in their task by creating not only a moody send-up to Arthur Russell, but brilliant chamber music of their own accord. Konkylie (“conch” in Danish) is the name of that accomplishment and the full-length’s echoic sound design definitely reverberates like a seashell.
The warm, analog synthesizers on the tribal-pop prism “Church and Law” and the bittersweet summer romance earworm “Kelly” take on onomatopoeic tones. This is warm and thickset electronic music with real emotions and real stakes. Bandleader Nikolaj Manuel Vonslid’s lofty vocals flit between the iceberg-like fragility of Russell and the theatricality of Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe on many tracks, especially “Parix.”
The care the band puts into their music spills over into their strange music videos for the cello-led “Add Ends” and the psychedelic “Church and Law,” too. Both visuals are concerned with building worlds for these beguiling melodies to wander through. Knife-esque drum pads pitter-patter down your eardrums and it’s easy to just soak in the balmy bath of sounds. There are fleeting instances where the band’s admiration of a sound experiment as resplendent cathedrals (“The Same Scissors,” “Jets”) rings somewhat false.
Sturdy melodies and a true range of downtempo and uptempo rhythms hold up the band’s fey delivery. And “Kelly,” “Chestnut,” and “Add Ends” lodge themselves into your brain and stay for a spell. A handful of these delicious earworms deserve to be on the radio. The mismanaged sequencing of Konkylie robs its melodic impact, but the ability to write a great tune is definitely with these Saints.