CD Ship of Light * [CD Boxset] [3 discs] (CD 7024768),
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Ship of Light * [CD Boxset] [3 discs]
Manufacturer Part Number (MPN): RIDCD 022SE
The third outing from this Helsinki-based crew is an impressionistic voyage through icy Nordic soundscapes and atmospheric pop, with captain and head dream weaver Marko Nyberg at the tiller, deftly navigating his band through little-charted interstices of sound -- touching on orchestral grandeur, acoustic folk, hazy synth-draped ambience, and surprisingly robust rock -- and of emotion -- evoking both wistful sweetness and dark, melancholic gloom without fully succumbing to either. If that description makes the album sound like so much amorphous sonic wallpaper, well, it does make for perfectly lovely background music, but it's also got a bit more character than many similarly inclined operations. Once again, Reeta Vestman (ne Korhola)'s wispy vocals -- texturally slight, even babyish (and certainly far from husky), but striking nonetheless -- provide a crucial focal point, whether menacingly whispered (as on "When Time Was on Their Side"), layered over themselves (as on the curious, sing-song quasi-lullaby "Beautiful My Monster"), paired with Nyberg's or left to their lonesome plaintive purity. But her voice is only one on an album full of distinctive sounds -- symphonic and synthesized, ordinary and otherworldly -- that are regularly blended in fluid and intriguing ways. Ambient-folk interlude "Grey Pastures, Still Waters," for instance, intersperses woodland animal noises and alien spaceship bleeps over a bed of placid, space age lounge; shape-shifting album standout "Wolf Trap Motel" spends over half of its length as a gentle, electric piano-led instrumental before a fleeting, glorious French horn note ushers in Vestman's vocal, an enchanting transformation even if she does little more than list the names of the days. Across the spectrum from these dreamy offerings are the livelier and somewhat more commonplace likes of "Fast Lane" and "We Shall Burn Bright," driving rock tracks which call the Arcade Fire to mind in their anthemic urgency, bringing loud guitars and drums to the forefront without lacking for the sonic inventiveness present throughout the album. They aren't bad songs, but their energy feels somewhat out of place here, coming off in this context as cluttered and pedestrian, and highlighting the challenges of combining expansive and adventurous soundscaping with direct, conventionally minded songwriting. There is, though, at least one entirely successful marriage of melody and moodiness: "Sound of Love," a simple, circular tune with a taut, danceable beat that pairs shadowy oddness and an instantly ear-catching hook, and forms a welcome portal -- or should that be porthole? -- into Ship of Light's lush, luminous leisure cruise. ~ K. Ross Hoffman
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