Time to take a walk. A long one, heavily atmospheric and…is that…my god, it is…a muted trumpet.
Yes, welcome to Ols Songd, the latest from Dutch artist Thijs Kuijken’s band I Am Oak. It runs along similar lines to past work from the band – mesmeric, dense and often surprising.
I Am Oak produces what you might call “adventure music.” The first, most striking aspect of their work is a constant sense of progression. Most songs begin modestly, with Kuijken’s voice supported by a guitar, and perchance a stranger addition, like the haunting tones that kick off “Covers Cover.” It’s a slow burn from there, as the vocal line almost always picks up additional harmonizing singers, while simple, repetitive vocals make tracking the crescendo easy. Percussion generally kicks in around the center point of the song-– occasionally surprising and almost always effective. While the formula begins to show some age near the end of the album, it holds strong through most of Ols Songd.
Case in point: second track “Yojihito.” If album opener “I Am Sound” is a sunny stroll in a meadow, “Yojihito” is a purposeful march. It’s a clever trap; the album might seem cuddly on the outside, but shows some teeth once you get into it properly. The swirling electric guitar of “Yojihito” is miles away from anything on “I Am Sound”. It’s not overly loud and it’s not overly menacing, but it’ll still land on listeners with all the forewarning of a thunderbolt.
Album standout “Covers Cover” is an absolute study in ambience. Everything that I Am Oak does on the rest of the album finally comes together and, for this one song, clicks. A haunting, menacing intro fades into Kuijken’s reassuringly melodic vocals. Listen a little while, and the meaning behind the song filters in. “Covers Cover” is an elegy. Lines like “I stole your fingers, I stole your smoke / Your heart is heavy for old times’ sake” don’t make much traditional sense, but the sense of loss is drummed into each and every word, logic be damned. The slickest touch by far is the muted trumpet that keeps filtering in and out of the second half of the song. It’s a fleeting hint of something brighter behind the song and yet it’s never fully realized.
Things fade a little over the second half of the album, but occasional jewels still pop up. “Firm Hands” is an excellent piece of work, gaining a choral air by the time its well-planned harmonies finish up. Ols Songd finishes an appropriate bang with the rising majesty of “Birches.” A great end to a solid, solid album.