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Jakob Olausson - Morning & Sunrise

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Artist: Jakob Olausson

Album: Morning & Sunrise

Label: De Stijl

Review date: Jan. 5, 2012

Jakob Olausson, who divides his time between beet farming and psychedelic home recording, made a modest splash in 2007 with his debut Moonlight Farm, a whispery, ominously beautiful collection of songs that hovered around the borders of new folk, near where the genre began to bleed into experimental drone. If you didn’t know what you were listening to, you might easily have assumed Moonlight Farm was a reissue, coming from the same evocative, eccentric vein of outsider 1960s folk as Gary Higgins or Ed Askew. And yet, Olausson is a contemporary, still working at his isolated Swedish farm, still making dreamy, reverb-hazed recordings that seem to exist in a time of their own. Morning & Sunrise, his second, has the same slackened, slo-mo meditativeness as the first Olausson record, but it is noticeably clearer, cleaner and more guitar driven.

Olausson works with multiple tracks, layering guitar parts over one another and smudging them together with echo. It is not unusual, even in tracks that seem pristine and uncomplicated, to hear two or three different guitar sounds at once -- one keeping up a steady acoustic strum, the other, an electric, winding solos full of sinuous bends, a third sitar-like and eastern-flavored pinging and twanging in the mix. “Riding on the Wind,” one of the best cuts, employs a mini-symphony of different guitar sounds, some placid and reassuring, others jagged and questing and unexpected. There is almost no dead space in his slow-moving songs, as one or another of the parts is always starting up or dying off, and yet despite a very full canvas, there is no sense of crowding or hurry. Something is always happening, but nothing very dramatic. You are left to ponder subtle shadings, the way that light and shadow interweave, the way that pretty licks circle back on themselves and swallow their own tails.

The other main element is Olausson’s voice, a spectral, echo-laden tenor that floats serenely over tangled, jangling guitars. In Moonlight Farm, Olausson often sang in unison with himself, building eerie, fireside choirs into his songs, as if a whole village were quietly murmuring his words. For Morning & Sunrise, he sings more conventionally solo, mostly quietly but occasionally rising into climaxes. Morning & Sunrise sounds a lot like Ben Chasny’s more "song" work, slow-blooming melodies arising out of hazes of chant and drone.

Morning & Sunrise is one of those albums that seems to slow down the experience of time. You have to give yourself over to its measured tempos, downshifting to explore its imaginary landscapes at a pedestrian’s pace. None of these tracks are absurdly long, but all take their time in defining themselves, sounding shadowy at first, but resolving into rich, variegated tones. Listening to the nearly six minutes of “Keep the Sky from Falling” is like watching a Polaroid develop – it becomes clearer and more beautiful as you proceed. And the more you listen, the more you recognize that Morning & Sunrise sounds entirely ungrounded in time or scene, not wholly belonging with either 1960s fringe artists a la Higgins, Askew, etc. or latter-day psych folkers like Chasny, Espers or Wooden Wand. It’s a record in its own time, defining its own place, somewhere way outside the normal sphere.

By Jennifer Kelly

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