The Danish rock scene in the last decade has been decidedly chameleonic, incorporating styles from fuzzed-out garage rock (the Raveonettes), to classic angular indie (the Figurines), to blatant neo-prog (Mew). Lost in this stylistic mish-mash is the cold, rocky beauty of the country itself. Thankfully, Samme Stof Son Stof by Under Byen is filled with glacial art rock that could only be the product of long nights and brutal winters.
Bjork’s influence is unmistakable in the voice of Henriette Sennenvaldt, although she sticks to low-end alien murmurs rather than full-throated shrieks. The title track’s dark textures and warped coos are so reminiscent of the Homogenic-era sound that I can picture the cardboard elf village within a cardboard elf village of the imaginary Gondry video that would follow. Elsewhere, although the vocals remain in the shadow of Ms. Gudmundsdottir, the accompanying music has none of her signature future shock. Dueling sheet-metal percussionists add a visceral — almost industrial — tinge to the occasionally childlike singing. Except for the rare Dane-ophile scattered among the U.S. indie-rock set, folks will have to get by on the texture of the words as opposed to their meaning. To her credit, Sennenvaldt creates affecting emotional resonance within the songs solely on the strength of delivery.
This is the first Under Byen disc to see stateside release, but it’s the band’s third since forming more than a decade ago, and the maturity is evident. Ten-minute epic “Film Og Omvendt,” takes a full two minutes of low-key buildup to show its bombast, and it unpredictably turns the power on and off, demanding continual attention despite the mammoth running time. Throughout the album, the urge to pull every track to a gushing climax is resisted in favor of individual instrumental turns and a welcome dose of negative space. String sections, piano, synths, kalimbas and eerie theremin-like saw playing helps us forget to miss absent guitars. Even the sequencing displays a well-developed aesthetic, with short and delicate music-box pieces cleansing the palette for the opuses.
By the time the penultimate pop of “Palads” has segued into the wave-beaten siren song “Sla Sorte Hjerte,” listeners might find themselves fatigued by the scope of the preceding hour. Lack of language comprehension doesn’t diminish the plus-sized emotions on display, even if making sense of it all is ultimately akin to finding meaning in the frozen face of a Scandinavian fjord.
Stream Samme Stof Som Stof: http://paperbagrecords.com/player/under-byen