March 14, 2012

Review: Tele by Pjusk

Pjusk - Tele

Like a whole swathe of ambient music, Pjusk‘s work relies on a scaffold of cues for the imagination to add a representational dimension to the raw sounds. Once one has learned that Pjusk are Rune Sagevik and Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik from the west coast of Norway, that their music is composed in a small cabin high in the mountains, and that their characteristic one-word track titles translate as “twilight”, “fog”, “hollow”, and the like, it is nigh impossible not to hear the murky atmospheres and dank rhythms of their music as evoking contemplation of a lonely landscape wreathed in mist and locked in a stasis measured in geological time. These associations are woven more literally than ever on their newest release, Tele. The album is released on the Glacial Movements label, a label that is single-mindedly dedicated to “glacial and isolationist ambient” and offers a growing series of releases that set out to evoke “places that man has forgotten…icy landscapes…fields of flowers covered eternally with ice… The cold and silent night that falls upon the glacial valleys…” The album’s title, Tele, is a Norwegian word for frozen underground water, and the track titles this time have also moved down into the cold earth, invoking gneiss, flint, slate, granite, crystal. It is thus not too big a surprise that the album’s opening is the most darkly monolithic of the Pjusk catalog to date; the surprise is that it ends with one of their brightest moments.

This is an album that seems to me to require some patience, and to be best taken as a whole. It takes some time for its rock-slow drama to unfold. The opening track, ‘Fnugg’ (a Norwegian term for something small and weightless), is a brief collection of atmospheric noises: cracks and drips and eerie electronic echoes. While it serves an obvious thematic, scene-setting function, it also helps set a dramatic arc, hinting (if my reading of the album has any merit) at the thaw and movement that might mark the boundary of the subterranean cold. This opening wisp of movement accents all the more the deep, dark stasis of ‘Gneis’, a track constructed from cavernous atmosphere and the portentous blast of buried foghorns that begin with a brassily confrontational sound but gradually sink into muffled oblivion and stillness. It’s a bleak opener, from which the faint wisps of rhythm that open ‘Flint’ begin a gradual ascent. Characteristic Pjusk accents emerge here and continue in “Skifer”: a slowly pulsing synth tone amid shifting, other-worldly atmospheres, haunting notes smeared slowly across the foreground, a lugubrious (and, on good speakers, thunderous) bass line so insistently sluggish that it drags the music viscously forward.

The album continues in familiar Pjusk territory, with hypnotic, half-submerged rhythms constructed from pulses of bass and swallowed synthetic gurgles wreathed in mysterious creaks, rumbles, and subtly shifting breaths of sonic mist in higher registers, the whole teasing the listener tensely and relentlessly forward without ever offering resolution, sounding now like a torpid electronic didgeridoo, now like some monstrous subterranean steam engine grinding away two caves further down (“Granitt” evokes both images for me). At the same time, the wispy, piping notes that drift over the surface keep the overall atmosphere, despite its darkness, from descending into mere creepiness; this is a darkness shot through with mystery, more Lord of the Rings than Nightmare on Elm Street. If the Pjusk sound speaks to your ear, as it does to mine, the results are hypnotically compelling.

As the album seeps towards its conclusion, the tracks have been becoming imperceptibly more rhythmic and subtle shades lighter, as we are gradually, tectonically raised back toward the surface. “Kram” (“Wet”) brings a shift of both tone and title, evoking not another stratum of rock but the slow swell of water. It settles into a gently meditative ebb and flow and ends in a subdued shimmering that offers a faint promise of light. In the brief “Bre” (“Spread”), the synth notes swell amid percussive cracks and windy rumbles, before the closing track, “Polar” sends the clearest message that we have been listening to an ordered whole, not just a sequence of atmospheres. Early in the track the deep foghorn-like blasts of “Gneis” re-emerge from the depths, persisting this time until they are overtaken by perhaps the brightest, most upbeat rhythm of any Pjusk track to date. While the sound palette remains consistent with what has preceded, we have emerged into lighter, somewhat gentler realms. Heard in light of the link to the album’s opening created by the recurrent foghorn motif, the brightly chiming rhythm evokes for me the world of drips and crystals where the frozen underground stasis meets the surface sunlight. No-one would mistake this destination for the Bahamas, but it has a glistening hopefulness accented by the contrast with the frozen dark from which we have emerged.

As I said earlier, the album requires patience. There are no dramatic changes of direction, thrilling crescendos or hummable melodies. To hear Pjusk requires a willingness to be drawn into mesmerizing rhythms and textures and probe their mysteries. This third Pjusk release, even more than Sart and Sval, unfolds gradually, unhurriedly. It invites the listener to slow down to the patient pace of its geological journey and recover a sense of the slow mysteries of the earth. Pjusk have carved out a distinctive and compelling niche for themselves in the world of ambient electronic music, and with Tele they have added another tensely beautiful piece to their haunting catalog.

Tele can be purchased on CD direct from Glacial Movements or as a download from online stores.


Unfamiliar with Pjusk’s back catalog? Listen to a couple of their earlier tracks below, the first from their debut album, Sart, and the second from the follow-up, Sval (both on 12k Records):

Filed under Ambient, Electronic, Experimental, Reviews, World