Styles: minimalist pop of the bittersweet and/or grief-stricken variety
Others: Bon Iver, The Antlers, later Radiohead
These days, the expectations that come with debut albums are almost taken for granted, and for one from such a prestigious label like 4AD, we would expect nothing less than for the artist in question to at least make an attempt to carve out a space for themselves within the intimidating, overwhelmingly vast universe of music. Yet on his debut album, Danish musician Søren Løkke Juul as Indians defies these expectations, which are only momentarily made to seem traditional, conservative, even trite. Rather, Somewhere Else plays out like a brief, low-key, and at times consciously — or cleverly — unburdened affair, filled with soundscapes that seem as if they’re about to drift into the ether at any moment. The approach is uncharacteristic for a debut and also tempting for the listener to pass off as insubstantial. But anyone who is willing to give the album more than one listen will find it’s not easy to shake off: Indians has crafted a finely-tuned, hauntingly beautiful, if still tentative, collection of songs.
Musically, Somewhere Else treads the ground between organic performance and arrangement, as well as the efficiently expansive possibilities of minimalism and pop in electronic music. The songs are stripped-down, sure, but the sounds are utilized effectively, even as they stand in for and freely emulate those of more traditional instruments. The album opener “New” fittingly reflects this: as reserved yet effervescent as it is, it nevertheless has the ability to conjure up much more than its parts. It’s a gorgeous song, if surrendered to, and its bittersweet flavor predominates throughout. Indeed, interpreted thematically, by way of melody, the album would seem to be concerned in some way with coming to terms with the past, tenderly taking turns from regret, defeat, and longing, to inspiring hope, and back again. The following track, “Birds,” further elaborates on these themes, a song built around a piano melody helped by wisps of synth here and there; meanwhile, “Lips Lips Lips,” one of the album’s highlights, builds and gradually reaches a high wherein Søren repeatedly sings of his soul in waiting, pleading for another to believe in him. But such sorrow is tempered by the hopeful “Reality Sublime” and the serenity of “Cakelakers,” both songs effecting an emotional narrative flow.
Somewhere Else achieves a sort of uncharacteristic finality with its closing title track, which also aesthetically differs somewhat with its more layered, substantive sound. It’s an unwelcome departure from what has come before, especially considering how rewarding it can be, should the listener have given in to its seemingly indifferent, lackadaisical demands (Indians seem to be in no rush). Much in the way of its thematic content, it’s not something many of us find easy to do in our everyday lives. My recommendation? Allow it time to sink in.
03. I Am Haunted
04. Magic Kids
05. Lips Lips Lips
06. Reality Sublime
08. La Femme
10. Somewhere Else