Valravn - Koder pć snor

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Koder pć snor
Westpark Music

Before I tell you about the superlative new CD by Valravn, I have to tell you what I like, and dislike, about ice storms. I'm wary of their destructive power. Trees come down, and electrical power can be disrupted. On the other hand, ice storms have a cruel beauty. The morning after a proper ice storm, the earth is crusted, and the tree branches make a strange clacking sound in the wind. The trees themselves look alien: you can see the branches, bark, and leaves through the layers of ice. And yes, this has everything to do with Koder pć snor.

Valravn hail from Denmark and the Faroe Islands. The band's first, self-titled album featured electronica versions of traditional Nordic (Denmark, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Sweden) folksongs, enhanced by acoustic instruments. While interesting, and certainly danceable, Valravn had not yet fully settled into their own identity. But how the band has matured on Koder pć snor. One would have to go back to Sorten Muld's landmark Mark II (1997) for the precedent of electronic treatments of Danish folk song. Further, the listener can easily be forgiven for noting parallels between lead Faroese singer Anna Katrin Egilstraođ's singing and the occasional Bjork-like whisper-to-a-scream vocalisms. Everything about Koder pć snor (or "codes on a string," a tribute to the theoretical physics of string theory) is so fresh and inspired that Valravn may have released one of the more significant albums to successfully combine traditional folk elements with electronic ambiance.

String theory has evolved into an explanation that tries to show that the forces and materials of the universe are all interconnected, and it doesn't take much imagination to see that this idea is also rooted in many religions and 'alternative' lifestyles which stress the relationships between people, the earth, and all living things. Further, if you're brewing up a musical sound that is rooted in the organic and the electronic, then not treating the two soundworlds as disparate forces can result in a seamless mix. Valravn take this approach and their songs go widescreen; cinematic; elegiac; and yes, funky. The electronics envelop traditional acoustic instruments such as the hammered dulcimer, the hurdy gurdy, flutes, viola, mandola, but the beauty of the structure is still visible, like an ice-encased tree.

The band has chosen to focus on their own compositions on Koder pć snor, and Valravn give themselves the time to explore their fusion. The title track goes over the seven-minute mark; beginning gently with hammered dulcimer, Anna Katrin Egilstrođ's voice enters like a singsong wave. In between verses, she explores the joy of making sound, using onomatopoeia: "tip tap," "bum plum," "wish wush," "pling plang." The result is mesmerizing. Around three minutes in, we get the thudding bass of electronica, and Valravn ramp the tune up before returning to the comparative innocence of the dulcimer. This is dance music, but weightless; you forget your body, and just follow the stream.

The traditional Faroese tune "Kelling" starts with "Hag lies on the doorstep, dead/Cannot eat nor butter nor bread" and quickly turns into a storming dance tune, with viola gliding over relentless percussion, both electronic and live. Giddy and infectious, the vocals drop out, returning over a skittering beat, stuttering and with the call "Statt upp og dansa! (Stand up and dance)," Valravn hit their crescendo. That hag might be dead, but this tune is totally alive! There's a very traditional feel to the band's own "Seersken," recalling Hedningarna in their glorious frenzied electronic experiments; it is difficult to resist the interplay of the flute, groaning beat, and tribal percussion that animates this composition. And finally, the Valravn again throw caution to the wind on their epic "Farin uttan at verđa vekk," complete with a choir that sails over deep cello sounds, dulcimer, and sparkling electronic landscape.

Not just a recording, Valravn's Koder pć snor is a whole other world of gorgeous pop, folk, and dance music. It gets my highest recommendation. - Lee Blackstone

The band's web site:

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CD available from cdRoots

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