I visited Ulsteinvik recently, and found time for an all-too-brief hiking excursion up along the cliffs under the guidance of a local school principal. As we clambered up steep slopes in the gathering dusk, buffeted by a stiff wind, keeping an eye out for patches of ice amid the heather, talking about fishing boats and hidden reefs, I realized that Pjusk were playing in my head. Listening to music in its country of origin is one of the perks of traveling, and I had been punctuating my trip around Norway with Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek, and Biosphere, among others. But now that I was out on the bare hillside, surf threshing below, all human habitation out of sight, and the iPod safely back at the hotel, it became evident again that somewhere in my brain Pjusk’s music has become what the Norwegian landscape sounds like.
Of course, no sooner do I settle into the tropes of mysteriously drifting, swirling albums whose track names are Norwegian words for rocks and mists and hollows than Pjusk release a new work, in collaboration with Sleep Orchestra, and the track titles are not even in Norwegian. Or any known language, come to that. Beyond the album title, the literal referents are gone, and the music too is if anything more abstract, more austere, than previous Pjusk releases. Don’t look here for anything hummable; prepare to be exposed to the elements.
The album opens with an unearthly rumble before opening out into high, oxygen-starved tones that put me in mind of some of Oöphoi’s evocations of stark, ethereal spaces. (Good speakers and a subwoofer help – this album more than many loses ground even in better quality earbuds.) A slowly dawning drone plays host to a suppressed scatter of mysterious rustles and implosions, a layer of detail easily missed if the music is allowed to fade into the background. A slight slither of movement bustles furtively, at times industrially, amid a vast grey sky of stillness.
The music continues in much the same vein. Deep, smooth drones register as sheer sonic presence more than notes. Deliciously Pjuskish tones and small scurries of percussive noises accent the stillness rather than propelling it into motion. An occasional dull throb, or even a sustained rhythm, emerges from time to time, but always skittering across that still bass abyss and airy firmament. The rhythms add detail for the mind rather than tugging at the gut. Listen out for it, and there is lots of interesting activity, yet the whole still drifts starkly and mysteriously in the cold depths of still space. Fireside listening it is not.
In the third track we get a nice surprise – the addition of Kåre Nymark Jr.’s trumpet to the palette. Those familiar with artists such as Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvaer will know how Norwegian trumpeters have propelled the instrument into evocative, gossamer realms. Here too the trumpet adds a starkly rarefied poetry, now softly caressing, now voicing restrained yet windswept cries of desolation. The results are hauntingly atmospheric.
I do not know Sleep Orchestra’s work intimately enough to be confident in identifying which sounds were contributed from that side of the partnership (though it now has me seeking out other Sleep Orchestra recordings). Those who like me have been happily lost in Pjusk’s past albums will find continuity here. Here again are the mysterious, alienating, yet oddly evocative eruptions of tone, the chilly exhalations, tectonic grumblings, gaseous gusts, metallic cries, and snatches of other-worldly melody, the sheer precision of the sound design, the transcendent otherness that is not tinkly chimes and fairy lights but deep primal mystery, like the whispered groanings of creation. Here again are the various elusive elements that make Pjusk’s musical voice so compellingly distinctive. And yet the overall tone seems colder, harsher, more demanding. I found this album less immediate than its Pjusk predecessors. It did not work well for me as background listening. But listening to it loud, giving it my full attention, on a system that can catch the detail, the rewards unfold aplenty. I find myself gradually drawn into the same fascination that those earlier Pjusk albums continue to evoke, the same sense of wonder, with a subtle new texture to ponder, perhaps arising from Sleep Orchestra’s contributions. It is another excellent piece of craftsmanship, challenging yet also very much worth the effort of getting to know it well.
The album is out in a limited CD edition of 250 on Moscow label Dronarivm. The digital edition adds a spooky remix by Christopher Bissonnette to the more approachable Pleq remix already found on the CD. For some listeners the Pleq remix might not be a bad place to start as it softens the music’s alien edge a little; personally though I prefer my Pjusk straight. Either way, this is an album worth hearing, and nice prelude to the forthcoming Pjusk release on 12k records. Stream Drowning n the Sky below:
David Smith currently lives in the Midwestern United States, where he teaches, writes, and enjoys a very wide range of music, with regard to which he claims no expertise whatsoever beyond that of a dedicated and appreciative listener.
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