Building Instruments | Mangelen Min
February 2019 starts with an interesting and unexpected surprise. Mangelen Min, whose loose translation would be as “my lack” – in the sense of “the thing missing in my life” – feels more like what everyone should be missing in the music environment nowadays.
We often hear of albums that walk that thin, slippery and very dangerous line between “the experimental” and “the popular”. Sometimes they manage to keep an integrity and we like them, sometimes they proudly fail and we appreciate them even more as we are aware that the meaning of the avant-garde is to clear the way for the others to express themselves in the future. But it is pretty rare to encounter projects that are a real game-changer, that not only walk that line but that go beyond it and broadly occupy a space, standing firmly with one foot on each side of the river and making a point, a statement that loudly resonates in both environments.
What is even more rare is to witness a musical product that makes great use of traditional music elements from all over the world without resulting in banal exoticism and irritating cultural appropriation. The research, the experience and the careful avoidance of the most common clichés result in a conscious blend that is never exaggerated but dwells harmoniously in its ambiguity and evasiveness that makes us feel nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
But this sensation of glorious and comfortable disorientation is not relative just to space but also to time. Antiquity and postmodernism are poured into each other as songs like “Lanke” and “Sangen Min” become the soundtrack for a contemporary-17th century royal ballroom or some raygun Caribbean sea-shanties sung on a starship. The voice here becomes more prominent and acquires a central position that is not always given for granted through the whole album, however one which is still treated as an instrument, as the lyrics, sung in Norwegian, are on the edge of unintelligibility and understanding them suddenly feels somehow unimportant.
Dissonances in the harmony are given a lot of space, which is never neither an easy choice nor a common one and provides a continuous and unpredictable sense of surprise, verse after verse, showing both a great attitude in improvisation and a perfect knowledge of each other. The rhythm is the only element of stability alongside the whole album, together with the sound quality, that deserves a special mention for its crispiness: it really feels like the mixing engineer was involved in the production process and treated as a part of the band.
It is truly hard to imagine comparisons between this record and more well-known acts that previously walked that thin line. As ground-breaking artists such as Björk and Franco Battiato appear nowadays strongly grounded in the times they belong to (respectively the ‘90s and the ‘80s) and peak artists of the Scandinavian/Nordic avant-pop movement such as Múm, Ane Brun or Susanne Sundfør, show an incredibly strong bond with the cultural, social or geographic background that lays behind them, Building Instrument take quite a drift, appearing as something definitely freer and impalpable, cloudy and malleable, that belongs to nowadays and acts as a mirror that reflects how indefinite the times we live in are.