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Silje Nes - Opticks

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Artist: Silje Nes

Album: Opticks

Label: FatCat

Review date: Nov. 5, 2010


Silje Nes - "Crystals" (Opticks)


Silje Nes’ voice is pleasant and whispery, ambient and harmonic, yet like other Nordic indie singers, struggles to carry a strong melody. Maybe it’s the winter chill that attenuates everyone’s vocals. The songs themselves are unassuming, never announcing their presence with a grand flourish. They’re there and delightful and are perhaps elegantly suited for a low-key mellow evening.

There’s not a problem with Opticks. That is, if I say something’s off, it’s not a prescription. It’s the album Nes wanted to make. The problem is more general. Nes makes pleasant music, subtle and enjoyable, but simply not gripping. With perhaps the exceptions of “Silver > Blue” and “Levitation,” none of the songs catch your attention. No melodies stick in your mind. No spirit of the album lingers, and the room isn’t warmed by its presence. It’s there and nice, but then it’s gone.

Of course, music can be used for different purposes. Not every song one listens to has to be present, there in consciousness, commanding attention. Not all music has to actively create a new space or actively engage the listener. Some music is passive, whether by design (by the intent of the artist or the limitations of the musician to conceptually think larger) or by accident (the musician wanted to but couldn’t make an active album). Active or passive has nothing to do with the type of music. There’s certainly a lot of passive noise and metal music. Just like there’s a lot of active softer music. The question is, does the artist in question sufficiently differentiate herself from everyone else?

This shouldn’t mean that every artist needs to chase some mythical state of being completely idiosyncratic. Everyone comes out of some context. Everyone’s identifiable in some way. It’s doubtful that an artist can make (honest, interesting, truly incomparable) art when working toward the goal of being unique. One can make art with that aim for sure, but it often turns out kind of awful if that’s the only motivating factor. The truth is, people make art for a million different, conflicting reasons; they make the art to the best their circumstances will let them, and only later do we pick up the pieces and evaluate them. With so many people doing this, how many artists can genuinely be active? Is that even a state most want to attain? Maybe.

Nes is honest. It might be the softness of the music that conveys this, but there’s a heartwarming character to Opticks. However, at the same time, not all truths are compelling. Most aren’t. Not all truths connect to an audience in an affecting manner. Most don’t. I guess the unfair thing about art is that someone like Nes can make a fine album like this, and it still doesn’t hit.

By Andrew Beckerman

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