Magic Chairs, Efterklang’s majestic new record, reaches for an emotional depth and complexity that is not currently in vogue. It’s artful and emotional, rewarding attention without requiring it. Combining orchestral instrumentation with subtle electronic accents, Magic Chair’s 10 songs veer off unexpectedly into wordless cries, choral verses, and even Memphis soul breakdowns. Efterklang seem to have an intuitive knack for this kind of unpredictable construction. This superficial effortlessness masks the currents of tension and interplay running throughout the album. However, little of this would matter if these songs did not connect emotionally; far from creating the impression of some sort of music theory remove, Efterklang’s regal swell conveys more emotion than any intellectual exercise could ever hope to.
The wistful twinkling of keys on “Modern Drift,” the very first sound on the record, hits such a sentimental nerve that it’s hard to imagine any feelings or associations other than my own. The song soon builds into something bigger, more open, into a structure less private but no less personal. When Casper Clausen sings about confessing himself to a lover, the percussion pounds like a nervous heart. These minor details feel organic and emotionally accurate in ways that transcend personal experience. Efterklang piles layers of strings and horns until the medium is no longer as intimate as the sentiments it expresses. It blooms into this gorgeous, impossible structure that bears seemingly endless rewards. The more scrutiny granted, the more staggering it seems.
The songs that follow “Modern Drift” are, if anything, even more impossibly gorgeous. None of this unrestrained gush of praise is to imply that Efterklang are or will be universally appreciated. Some will get swept up in their refined clatter, others will just find it all a little damp. By Magic Chairs’ final stretch, from “The Soft Beating” through “Mirror Mirror,” one could be forgiven for finding the relentless pomp a little oppressive. Those songs, riveting as they might be, lack the dramatic currents that make the first few songs so remarkable. Yet Magic Chairs ends on a high note; “Natural Tune” is, as its title implies, the simplest and most conventional of Magic Chairs’ offerings. Rather than attempting to outdo themselves, Efterklang scale back, ending sweetly, without overplaying their hand or overstaying their welcome.