The White Birch Come Up For Air

[Rune Grammofon; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: chamber pop, indie rock, post rock, experimental Scandinavian rock
Others: Sigur Rós, Coldplay, Maximilian Hecker, Radiohead

Starkly baroque, Come Up For Air one-ups Coldplay in its approach to European indie rock. While the aforementioned band and the legion of other post-Radiohead/Sigur Rós acts strive to create dense, orchestral rock that resonates with calculated melancholy and raw emotion, The White Birch have effectively done so without pretension. Produced by Rune Grammofon staple Helge Sten (of Supersilent and Deathprod fame), the Norwegian trio's 2005 long-player, which has finally seen release domestically in the United States, is an evocative and expressive work that, despite its dense, flowery melodicism, displays an innocently unassuming lyrical charm.

Led by primary songwriter and vocalist Ola Fløttum, The White Birch craft atmospheric ballads on an orchestral scale that serve as impressive and grandiose backdrops for the band's wistful, almost painfully heartfelt vocals. Fløttum's voice has a boylike delicacy that falls somewhere between Nick Drake and David Gilmour and is capable of lapsing into falsetto a la Thom Yorke or Chris Martin (as on the gorgeous "Stand Over Me"). The lyrics, though simplistic, are pleasantly ambiguous ("If I can't forget who you are/ I can forget you"). But while there is something to be admired in the earnest candor of the group's lyrics, the band's strong suit is without question their imposing compositional prowess. Much in the manner of Radiohead, Sigur Rós, and their ilk, the assemblage of The White Birch's tracks betrays a sensibility that manifests itself in the pieces sounding vastly greater than the sum of their parts.

It is perhaps the band's characteristically piano-driven arrangements that cause one to liken the group to Coldplay, but the songs of The White Birch contain much in the way of textural diversity and harmonic complexity. What makes the music on Come Up For Air stand apart from the above-referenced groups is Helge Sten's unconventional production techniques, which are highly conducive to musical expressivity. Though most of the album was performed using live instruments, they were evidently mic'd in such a way as to bring out characteristics that allow an inordinately wide dynamic range. In the manner of much Scandinavian (Icelandic, in particular) music, Come Up For Air possesses a crystalline, unmuddied shimmer that serves as a kind of sonic accelerant, granting the tracks deeper purchase into the listener's consciousness. The third track, "Your Spain," is an infectiously listenable piece that should unquestionably be released as a single. Infinitely superior to the usual turgid fare that passes as "adult alternative," this multi-faceted song bewitches with its deceptive simplicity. Emotional, but far from overwrought, The White Birch's Come Up For Air comes highly recommended.

1. Seer Believer
2. Storm-Broken Tree
3. Your Spain
4. The White Birds
5. Silent Love
6. June
7. Stand over Me
8. Small Hours
9. We Are Not the Ones
10. The Astronaut
11. New Kingdom

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