An immaculate work of atmospheric music
The world of instrumental music is a curious one. As listeners, people are often tasked with creating a film from snippets of rare dialogue, song titles, album titles and tone. The most skilled artists in this category, legends like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Brian Eno, Ben Frost and Blanck Mass, have a knack for couching their sonic landscapes in commentary. With the solo debut of Alex Somers, the partner of Jonsi (of Sigur Ros fame) and one half of the duo Alex and Jonsi, the aforementioned group finds their ranks expanded once again.
This project, which consists of two distinct but clearly related albums entitled Siblings 1 and Siblings 2 (and hereafter referred to as Siblings when addressing both), will quickly impress itself upon listeners. Of the two records, Siblings 1 is a far darker, more suffocating experience, while Siblings 2 is a glorious, uplifting journey filled with bright atmospheres and light melodies. But the pronounced difference between the two projects allows them to heighten one another, increasing the emotional impact of each second upon a close re-listen.
Kicking things off with Siblings 1, the album opens with a chilling lullaby in the form of “Weeping Willow,” which spills directly into “Oh Willow I Die.” The former is a sparse, empty composition, consisting primarily of a child singing a familiar refrain of “Beneath the weeping willow.” The latter is a more atmospheric track, bursting with gentle, melancholic strings and eerie bass tones. This chilling track sets the tone for the rest of the record, which strives to be (and succeeds at being) one of the most haunting musical experiences of the year. From the Eno-like synths and strings over the sound of a breathing pump on “Deathbed,” to the roiling dark crescendo of “Avalanche,” each second of the record ties a knot in people’s stomach then sets it free to bounce between your chest, and pelvis at Somers’ command.
Conversely, Siblings 2 spends a majority of its runtime untying that dense knot of nerves that was so carefully wound by its partner. Gone are the low, ominous synths and drones. In their place stand brilliantly bright strings that drip with an ever so slight melancholic dew. It is the sound of pure nostalgia distilled to its core essence. While no single track reaches the particular heights of “Avalanche,” as a composition, Siblings 2 ultimately exceeds the ambition and cohesion of Siblings 1. The songs on this album flow just as readily into one another as they did on the previous one, as evidenced by the cool drone of “Woven” flawlessly segueing into the music box melody of “Locket.” The album is at its absolute best during the final three tracks, “Sooner,” “Oella” and “Atlas.” Each of these tracks feels like a piece of a greater whole, and they flow and ebb through one another with such ease that it’s almost impossible to believe that they were ever singular pieces of music. It’s a towering achievement that, by its conclusion, will have people clamoring for another ride.
Accomplishing what Somers has done on Siblings 1 and Siblings 2 is no small feat. Even the most talented of musicians can lose the thread from time to time. The reel of film in our minds catches fire, skips a frame, or simply clatters to the floor. But Somers shows himself to be a skilled projectionist, seamlessly weaving together strands of film that will play on as memories for the rest of our lives. Whatever one’s movie may be, whatever order these cells and frames present themselves to people, they’re left with a journey that demands to be retaken, examined, and combed over, again and again, and again.