‘Sitting above effortlessly tranquil settings, Maria’s vocal makes every track feel beautifully personal.’
Re-intro to MALMØ
As you will remember, back in March I reviewed the pre-released tracks from MALMØ’s forthcoming debut album. Musically magical throughout, both tracks – You and the title track We Come from the Stars – demonstrated just how wonderful and immersive the full album was likely to be. It was a fantastic musical tease. But with expectations so high could MALMØ deliver? Spoiler alert: they exceed them on every level. Read my interview with lead vocalist Maria at: Behind the Music: Interview with Maria Malmoe.
Album Review: We Come from the Stars
Easing us in beautifully with its Michael Nyman meets Einaudi-esque combination of echoing piano and distant sustained strings, the introduction to ‘Breaking‘ makes for a more than appropriate start to MALMØ’s debut album. As with the pre-released tracks, Maria’s vocal is filled with spine-tingling inflections which speak to you in an incredibly personal way. It’s truly immersive. However, as if this wasn’t enough, the effortlessly word-painted lyrics – most notably those centred around the recurring phrase of ‘Lonesome rider’ – connect with you beyond belief. While these are mere suggestions of the musicality that is to follow, the way Maria’s vocal gradually develops and soars above its emotion filled setting makes for incredible, if not cinematic musicality. Ever-gently guiding us to its conclusion, it’s a stunning opening track.
Moving through to Track 4 – with the previously reviewed ‘You‘ and ‘We Come from the Stars‘ sitting at Tracks 2 and 3 respectively – ‘Dawn‘ brings a more tribal like sound. Heavily infused with gamelan style bell tones, the instrumentation is one that feels creepy, unsettling almost, but with Maria’s vocal having a likewise tone, it becomes immensely inviting. Ironically, given that the track’s title suggesting it’s time to arise, you find yourself drifting off towards sleep. However, while it certainly lulls you back towards it, you never fully return to your slumber as the minimalist and electronic influences take the track into alternating, perfectly complementing directions. Filled with subtlety it’s a stylishly produced track which makes for an evocative and haunting listen every time.
Ensuring that we fully wake from the slumber encouraging ‘Dawn‘, Track 5 ‘Meet Me in the Meadow‘ brings an entirely unexpected changed of atmosphere. Focusing on full throttle rhythmic content, rather than the soothing soundscapes to this point, you may imagine it to have a lack of connection. But you would be wrong. The truth is that while it speaks to you very differently, it speaks to you just as much as what has come before. Yes there isn’t the free-form lyricism – nor the slow moving textural harmonies – but what there is is an endless collection of cleverly crafted, smile-inducing rhythmic changes, cheekily interweaving melodic fragments and enchanting, warmth-filled harmonies. Providing us a with refreshingly upbeat side of their music, you want to join MALMØ in the immensely musical meadow.
‘Maria’s hypnotically soothing vocal whispers right into your ears’
Bringing us back to the essence of MALMØ’s music, the immediate sense of peace and romanticism created in Track 6 ‘Homeland‘ makes for a truly captivating listen. Texturally centred around the sparseness of earlier tracks, the piano led accompaniment generates an incredibly tranquil setting. Lulling you gently, it’s like you’re floating. It’s like you are being healed and this setting combined with Maria’s soft vocal makes it feels unbelievably personal. However, whereas to this point the minimalist influences have applied to the musical content, here it’s also the case for the production. For some it may well feel unpolished – particularly at those moments where pedal movement and chair creak can be heard – however, for others, including myself, it will make the track what it is: one of heartfelt honesty at a level rarely heard.
Continuing to push the boundaries, the folk infused combination of string dominant drones and soothing wordless call to prayer style vocals ensures ‘The Way‘ feels cinematic right from the start. Transporting us to the Scandinavian valleys, the free flowing atmosphere fills you with anticipation beyond that of any other track. It’s like a journey. One minute you’re experiencing calm musicality as you drift in a longboat, the next, war like drums encourage you to march with an army! It’s already incredibly dramatic and we haven’t even heard Maria’s vocal! This, we have to wait a little longer for. But wow is it worth it! Giving everything possible in both vocal and instrumental areas, it makes for a completely intoxicating sound.
Having created such an overwhelming atmosphere at the end of ‘The Way‘, Track 8 ‘Time and Tide Waits for No Man‘ makes for the perfect contrast. Sounding very much like an ambient recording, a Kalimba-esque introduction takes us to a much calmer place. We’re a world away from the drama. Like other points in the album, it’s a track of subtlety, but subtlety at its most beautiful. Take the time-reflective nuances and the gorgeously warm, wave-reflective chorus as just two examples. There is no question that the full on nature of earlier has been left behind, but the musicality most definitely has not.
Ensuring that we remain convinced of this, the sense of calm continues through the delicately picked electric guitar introduction of Track 9 ‘Wild Horses‘. Rhythmically projecting a balance of pace and relaxation, it’s yet more evidence of MALMØ wanting to show us everything. Enhancing this approach even further, Maria whispers every word right into your ears. It’s hypnotically soothing and as a result you are transported to another unbelievably calming place regardless of where you are listening. This said, while its sense of calm is key to the track’s success, the fragility within plays just as much of a part and hearing the formation of every lyric, you nearly reach breaking point. However, comfort is on the way in the form of gently emerging orchestral string centred harmonies which bring warmth and guide us to a hope filled conclusion.
Giving us a slight breather from the emotional intensity of ‘Wild Horses‘ – and a sense that the album’s conclusion is near – Track 10 ‘Four Lands‘ quickly takes on the form of a musical montage. Beginning with a heavy bowed string melody, we are taken back to ‘The Way‘ while picked electric guitar emerges reminding us of what has just been. There is a real sense of atmosphere and a sense of anticipation. This anticipation – as soon becomes apparent – isn’t wasted as we experience mixed vocal harmony and a chorus which brings power and determination. Combined with the re-emergence of the call to prayer vocals in it’s latter parts, it makes for an apt penultimate display of MALMØ’s musicality.
Bearing in mind some of what has just been said, you may feel that ‘Four Lands‘ would have made for the perfect closing track and therefore ‘River of the Heart‘ wouldn’t be needed. To think this is a mistake. While the previous track was most definitely a musical montage, as a closing track ‘River of the Heart‘ with its tolling bells and cinematic Vangelis-esque soundscapes showcase MALMØ at their very best. Feeling more therapeutic than ever, it makes for a perfectly soothing, immensely evocative closing track.