A debut LP truly unlike anything you’ve ever heard before
Sometimes you wake in a pool of sweat of which acts as an assuring snap-back to the reality where screaming, writhing creatures intent on eviscerating you do not exist. That nightmare realm is where the ineffable Sturle Dagsland taps into. The Norwegian artist presents a challenging, discomfiting listen unlike anything before. Even VICE described it as “indescribable.”
One may hear all that jazz about some such and such musical act is genre-bending, or genre-defying or reinventing that or this, but that isn’t applicable here. No, he starts at ground zero, creating music on a tabula rasa. Sturle Dagsland’s self-titled debut LP is temperamental, primeval, horrifying and somehow also pretty all at once. Experimental prog-folk animal ambient acid rap? Possibly. Whatever you call it, it’s lined with an intensity that is jarring, and with a delicacy that is equally jarring by proximity (similar to the fear-inducing phenomenon of lullabies in horror movies).
“Kusanagi” opens the album with arduously wheezed-out word distortions. Nothing is intelligible. The suggestions of individual words elide into each other in a continuous string that’s sometimes broken up or paralleled by an entourage of concussive sandbag hits and ethereal glitch swirls that are strangely soothing. The twisted voice sucks in a long breath for rapid-fire animalistic scatting and screeching amidst confused violins, the same inexorable percussion and a markedly lush melisma filters behind it all. The track forecasts the rest of the record’s habit of oscillating between dainty harmonies and the fragmented macabre.
Track one down, the second shakes off the stopping power of the first. “Harajuku,” although more lowkey than the last, features a femme voice piercingly keening in more of a semblance of a melody, still wordless and bizarre. The half-angry, half-confused Tasmanian devil of the last track reappears bursting out non-lexicals on top of this track’s more instrumentally-colored backdrop. An EDM-type beat speeds then settles into a plateau of growls and snarls.
Some of the many instruments used on the record simulate sounds of water, evoking the image of an untouched pool at the bottom of a cavern–the home of whatever etiolated creature keeps raucously burbling. Water droplets plop in “Blot” amidst prog-styled click and tongue-pop percussion splintering out of itself. In “Waif,” the droplets are discernible whenever there isn’t a babel of primal shouts, or a human undergoing an excruciating transformation into some grotesque anthropomorphic Cronenbergian creature.
Other than the liquid imagery, there’s an electronic element that’s prevalent, though sly, among the traditional stringed instruments the record favors, melding the old and new through anachronism, which is how it gets its distinctive sound. “Nyckelharpa” contains ultra-low bass found at home in dance, EDM or ambient electronica as, assumedly, a nyckelharpa plays; there’s tribal drum beating, panicked flutes and a misfit doom-metal electric guitar set to deep shamanic chanting in “Noaidi;” in “Dreaming,” what sounds like an acoustic guitar floats on a slow-decay synth line. And every song is fed through reverb, vocal effects and feedback mods.
But, the most glaring aspect about Sturle Dagsland is his voice. The guy is a vocal hyphenate. He has all the techniques down with a certain kind of animal prowess: the wails, raspy groans, squalls, clicks, yodels, screeches, thrust-yells and shouts, chants, barks, gasps and growls. He rapid-fire scats in an up-tempo rap-like rhythm on “Frenzy” and then adopts an angered death-metal register to death-metal-derived instrumentation in “Blot.” However he is producing noise, it sounds folkloric and tinged with the truth of the ancient, almost ritualistic in essence.
This is no pleasant daytime listening, even for the so-called avant-garde. Anyone claiming they sincerely dig it on account of its rejection of convention or instrumental tact may not be lying–it certainly is one giant leap for musical mankind. But there’s no way this is an album people would be craving to drop the needle on for a second time around. Sturle Dagsland is a one-and-done affair. Because anything that sounds like an audio recording of some manufactured life form verbalizing the agony of its own attempt at rectifying its disfigurement does not warrant another ostentation-free listen.