Spooky ethereal synth sounds akin to Vangelis‘ Blade Runner soundtrack and female vocals keening softly in the background give way to an electronic beat and a muted melody on the opening track Iris Germanica of this fourth album from Danish duo Syntaks.
Shiftandshade Ahead has processed vocals dipping between different tones whilst a shimmering regal musical backdrop parades around like eighties Bowie, whilst there’s a Low-era feel to Submariner which ebbs between driving beat driven verses, mounrful asides and a haunted fun fair sounding piano-line. Throughout Anna Cecilia’s vocals are a warm blanket, soft and clevely entwined within the mix, quite close in style to French soundtrack composer Eric Serra‘s use of female voices on The Fifth Element score.
Jakob Skott takes lead vocal on When Tomorrow Turns A Million, a pleasingly wobbly acoustic guitar running throughout the track, but it’s around this point that the admittedly enjoyable laidback ambience of the record begins to form a bit of a fog, with this track and Indigo Spine blurring into one another and whilst the evocative and cinematic qualities of the music are not lessened it’s an album that could do with a shot in the arm.
It doesn’t come with Oak Moon, an otherwise lovely and tranquil tune, an easy-going drum-line and simplistic pensive guitar to which Cecilia coos sweetly. Someone Elses Dream meanwhile wraps Syntaks’ familiar trappings around a stately piano line, a head-nodding trip-hop beat and eerie backwards sounding vocals give it a Portishead feel, though without that band’s poppier leanings.
Things get a little more playful, at least production-wise, on Lucertola, with the tune stuttering and juddering in a similar fashion to Dam Mantle. Whilst Hollow is a looping orchestral murmur with a slowly rising synth-line in the background that feels like Philip Glass documentary film scores, you can practically imagine the hi-speed images of nature and cities that would accompany it. Elsewhere Into Two feels a bit like a vocal-less electronica take on a Bill Callahan track, though that could just be the craving for a little variety – and I’m not talking about suddenly going punk or throwing in some breakbeats – but just a little bit of invention to differentiate some of the songs which, whilst all perfectly pleasant, seem content to coast along each at the same tempo, each using the same tricks and shifts, without ever really doing much to distinguish them from the last, which, over a 15 track album can be a bit of a slog.
So, it’s something of a relief that at the almost halfway point of six minute Journey to the Third Part of the Night the mellow tracks erupts into electric guitars and rolling racing drums, Cecilia’s vocal rising up like a ghostly choir. It’s, perhaps buoyed by the preceding similar sounding 10 tracks, a stirring moment, but one that is ultimately squandered, not developing itself, but it at least shows and suggests what this duo could pull out of the bag when necessary. It’s followed by the sleazy and grimy sounds of Sighing the Structures, which again has that touch of Bowie and Brian Eno with its avant garde ambient theatricality.
Days of Future Past spices up its ambience with some acoustic guitar pushed to the front of the mix, which again – at the halfway mark – gives way to live drumming and an electric guitar lines in amongst its spacey atmospherics, corralling these elements together to a form a reasonably lively finale to this penultimate track. Whilst the closing track Ruby Glass has a soft melody and Cecilia sings, I think, of ‘coloured leaves’, it’s got a dreamy, twinkly quality and is a nice, downtempo close to this record.
This is a decent record, whilst never anything but enjoyable it too often fades into the background, whilst it makes a pleasant soundtrack to whatever you may be up to at the time it doesn’t grab the attention, whether that’s through interesting arrangments, an imaginative piece of instrumentation of singing or even a distinctive and memorable melody. It’s not a need for the band to suddenly defy their intentions, but it just feels, all too often here, that they’re comfortable with what they’re doing, they can do it well, but they need to push themselves a bit more and step outside of their comfort zone.