My previous brushes with Efterklang have left an impression of some very studied, considered music that's perhaps a little impersonal and cold at times. I have no such reservations about 'Parades', though. Right from the opening track 'Polygyne', this is an album that has much more warmth, more humanity than the material I'd heard previously. And it's mainly to do with the greater use of voices, I think. You could even call them choirs. Sure the scratchy machine beats are there, but so are all manner of more 'organic' instruments strings and woodwind mainly, although some very convincing timpani also appear, as well as a sprightly piano. It's an ambitious opening track, grand in scale and complex in construction, with a hint of melancholy and some interesting harmonies. 'Mirador' again features light machine percussion, but it's tempered by a piano, flute, brass and more voices. It's almost like a Northern European Broken Social Scene or Most Serene Republic - it has that feeling of an ensemble piece that seems to be prevalent in some Canadian music these days, but it's not as loose. The brass and strings are no less joyous in their own way, though.
'Him Poe Poe' features rather lush piano, occasionally Nymanesque strings, more massed voices and some rather fetching bass drones. 'Horseback Tenors' is an even more string-driven thing that trots and canters along in turns while voices provide some rather nice harmonies. Again, there's a fantastic droning bass which will vibrate your eyeballs if you turn it up loud enough (or so my research suggests), and the ending is again full of joy, all fanfare and lusty Wicker Man singing before a descent into melancholy and contemplation. 'Mimeo' clocks in at under a minute and features the most mournful piano I've heard in a good while, while 'Frida Found A Friend' features breathy, almost whispered vocals and strange, creaking percussion. There's also some very bleak trumpet or in there (or it might be a cornet). And more voices, of course. 'Atmospheric' doesn't quite do it justice. Some of the chord progressions in the last couple of minutes or so are rather lovely in a gloomy, funereal kind of way. Perhaps Frida's friend died. Who knows?
'Maison De Reflexion' begins with strings, quasi-military and a machine-like whirring noise that's rather disconcerting. There's more agreeable choral work, and some big bowed bass noises underpinning everything. There's a short section dominated by tinkling noises that give way to piano and strings. Again the overall effect is mournful, but not in a cloying way. Everything's done with a deft, light touch and a good deal of subtlety. 'Blowing Lungs Like Bubbles' again showcases almost whispered vocals, set against an instrumental backing that has an accordion popping its head over the parapet from time to time. There's some interesting harmonies in the backing vocals and a strange, remote twinkling noise as the icing on the cake. 'Caravan' begins with some delayed, layered guitar arpeggios, some more quasi-military drumming and a jaunty vocal line that again sounds vaguely Canadian. There's a rich variety of brass backing (is that a French horn?) and some more of that bedrock bass sound lurking underneath everything.
'Illuminant' is a slow, meditative piece featuring more massed voices, a guitar or two, a piano, a rainstorm, and sundry other good things. 'Cutting Ice To Snow' is the triumphant finale, building to a crescendo full of happy piano and voices that are perilously close to Polyphonic Spree territory, but without crossing into the fixed grin happy-happy-happiness of everybody's favourite Disney Dravidians. It's a great way to finish the album, sounding a note - or rather several notes - of optimism that contrast nicely with some of the album's more reflective moments. Good stuff.
This is a very pretty record indeed. There are some very well thought out arrangements, a great variety of instruments on display, and the quality and warmth of some of the singing is very good. It's fair to say it's unlikely to get you pogoing around the house, and some of it is a little broody and introverted, but at the same time there's a great deal in it to admire. Well worth a listen.