I wish all my songs were about the sea wouldn’t be considered a typical release for any label let alone Dynamophone, to whom avant-garde, experimental and vocal releases are certainly no stranger so to find them so auspiciously combined on this fearless and audacious debut album by Christian Albrechtsen came as something of a surprise. Albrechtson’s distinctive, off-the-wall vocal and lyrical stylings share a niche with similarly eccentric artists like Björk, Anthony and the Johnsons or Sigur Ros’s Jón Birgisson and will undoubtedly be just as divisive. Meld this together with a dauntless approach to performance and subject matter (think Patrick Wolf or MGMT) and you have an artist clearly out to stamp a unique mark on the music scene.
What is it about the sea that brings out the intensity, passion, the weird and the wildly experimental in artists? Other nautically themed releases like Xela’s zombie-fest The Dead Sea on Type, Elegi’s Sistereis on Miasmah, Jasper TX’s I’ll be long gone before my light reaches you’ on Lampse or the lamentations of Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s ‘Twice Born Men on Samadhisound are all equally fervent experiences, and on I wish all my songs were about the sea Albrechtsen is responsible for almost every aspect of the production: from the lyrics and vocals, a miscellany of musical instruments (mostly notably accordion and melodica) and the programming right through to the creation and concept of the wave mask and samurai-like costumes seen on the cover art.
Comparisons to Björk are certainly not unfounded either as you will variously find multi-layered vocals used as instruments (strongly reminiscent of her experimental Medulla album), childlike Vespertine era music box tinkles, scratched and crackly, distorted, or wildly flailing, hyper-tense vocal solos and hailstone filled gale-force winds of furious Homogenic era Mark Bell style percussion. None of this is meant to imply that I wish all my songs were about the sea is derivative or unoriginal, merely that certain influences are easy to spot and when Albrechtsen gets the balance between vocal and lyrical quirkiness, instrumentation and post-processing just right the album flashes with brilliance.
Album opener “Unfold” throws the listener overboard straight away featuring many of these elements, but if this were a big hitting, commercial label release then an obvious single choice would be the fiercely catchy “Get on board.” This assault on the senses launches a churning assortment of distorted, close-harmony backing vocals, salty accordion and melodica melodies to get everyone on deck swaying from side to side, machine-gunned percussion that recalls Björk’s “Hunter” and by turns fey falsetto then sinister snarling vocal solos that rise to a boiling crescendo in the searing closing chorus. The title track swims in similar but less roiled waters, another Gatling gun attack of jagged percussion mixed with lo-fi organ bleeps and tinnitus fizz.
At the more melancholy (but no less intense) end of the spectrum is the romantic “Ocean Solo” that, stripped down to the basic elements of melodica, accordion and guitar, layers vocals with varying levels of reverb and echo to create a depth of field that at times feels orchestral in scope, any instrumentation present merely an artistically sprinkled seasoning atop some of the album’s most heart-string tugging vocal harmonies. The meandering “Cripple,” like much of Bjork’s Vespertine, is not immediately engaging, but give it a few moments and Albrechtsen’s accomplished and complex composition quickly takes hold. “The world is a creature” even fuses Ryuichi Sakamoto-esque glitch and flowing Mike Garson piano into the mix.
If the album has a weakness, it is that it can occasionally become a little too overblown or frenetic: “Your ship is the prettiest” is, frankly, a bit too literal and arguably slightly pretentious, “Set Foot In The Corridors” overly theatrical and shouty and “I could be alive” verges dangerously on the twee, Albrechtsen become a tad dis-inhibited in a slightly cringe-worthy folk rock style that clashes with the spirit of the rest of the album. Of course this may not matter to those with a greater appreciation for artists who let it all hang out, so to speak, but it can make for slightly uncomfortable listening from time to time.
That Christian Albrechtsen has created a remarkable album that you will either love or hate is, I suspect, no understatement, possessing as it does a raw energy, ambition and confidence that make a very bold statement. Hopefully we can look forward to hearing much more from this exceptionally gifted artist in the future.