Lines Describing Circles
Peder Mannerfelt’s latest album starts with a collapse. Appropriately, the song is called “Collapsion” – but it’s as much of about beginnings as it is endings. The song feels at once like a warm up but also like a breakdown. As the song progresses, it seems to shorten the gap between bass drum hits, as though the song is building momentum and about to settle into a more up tempo swing. But slowly it all falls away and those sign post hisses and hums that act as so much vapour trail behind each bass drum hit feel off kilter, until they barely seem to exist on the same plain as the melodies anymore.
It’s a perfect primer for an album by a guy who has no interest in lulling his listener into a sense of complacency. No Mannerfelt bio is complete without mentioning his work on Fever Ray’s excellent debut album. And his work as one half of Roll the Dice really shone through on that duo’s release for Digitalis back in 2010. For a project that’s easy marketing tagline was “Fever Ray minus Karen Dreijer Andersson’s vocals”, it was an album that actually drew attention to the craftsmanship behind the production of that debut FR album. The bass was deep and the melodies seemed to arrive as though emerging through a fog to haunt the songs. RTD’s 2011follow up took this haunted mystique even further to give a more scattered and plundering approach to gathering melodies and rhythms.
But Mannerfelt’s solo work has always been more stripped down than that, keeping the elements to a minimum while relying on the interplay between pulsating rhythms and coarse, inhuman melodies. As second track “Lines Describing a Circle” begins, Mannerfelt shows a sort of reserve that relies less on those elastic basslines to act as the nerve centre of the songs and lets his deft sense of melody do the heavy lifting. Make no mistake; the album is evidently the product of a craftsman producer playing with temporal space and bold textures to create something all consuming. For the title track of an album, it makes clear that Mannerfelt does not need to hurry to bring the chaos; he is just as willing to slow the listener into his world of discomfort.
And if Mannerfelt’s work could be summed up in two words, those words would be the hyphenate: anxiety-inducing. The album’s third song “Affricate Consonants” sounds like hearing electricity move through wire in slow motion. The beat seems to be some explosion as that electricity reaches its final destination blowing the receptacle as it does so.
By fourth song “Gulo Gulo Caesitas” all bets are off, the beat is kinetic electricity. It moves through, unrelenting. You can almost feel your eardrums fighting back. It’s the sort of night club music gone J.G. Ballard that might be equally at home next to a Powell song.
“Alpha Waves” slows things down. On most albums, “slows things down” is usually a synonym for calms things down. But in this instance, just because there is more space between the peaks and valleys of the sine waves doesn’t mean the piece is any less unnerving.
After that brief respite, “Derrvish” feels like a particularly nasty bit of business with machine gun style kick drums meets noised out radar blips. It’s the sort of song that if you play on headphones, you have to keep one hand at the ready on the volume knob in case it crescendos past the point of safety.
By the time the album reaches tenth song and album closer “Rotterdam Anagram”, Mannerfelt has put the listener through the proverbial ringer. Much like the album’s opener, it plays with skewed rhythms and electronic pulses that seem to metastasize from the bass drum until they become their own organism living separate but occasionally intertwining with the beat. It’s also paired off with a floating melody that has an almost ambient quality to it.
By the end, “Lines Describing Circles” will have exhausted most listeners. And that’s likely how Mannerfelt wants the listener to feel. The process is complete. Everything about Mannerfelt’s whole project as a musician seems designed to remind listeners that they don’t have to acquiesce to music that seems to lack the ambition to force the listener out of their comfort zone. Add another jewel to the man’s crown.