Is it Halloween yet? No, but by the sound of the long-awaited Bånsull, it may as well be. This is the sound of a haunted attic, excavated by Tommy Jansen (Elegi), who allegedly recorded terrifying bedtime stories on reel-to-reel, gave his daughter nightmares, and hid the tapes away for her protection … until now. We’ve been waiting for the artist to return ever since the release of his icy opus Varde in 2009. It’s easy to imagine his soul being frozen since then, and not in a Disney sort of way. It’s also easy to imagine his daughter climbing the stairs, finding the tapes, playing them back, and realizing it was not a dream.
Bånsull would make the perfect score for an old black-and-white horror film such as the oft-cited Nosferatu. Creaking boards, dark cello and theremin abound. One can imagine the shadowed hand sneaking from a curtain, the spectral image glimpsed from the side of the lens, the young couple dancing in the haunted ballroom, looking exquisite until they turn, revealing hollowed, scavenged faces, their smiles turned to lipless grimaces. The album is at times elegiac, at times bittersweet, at times disturbing, but consistently alluring. Its soul is gray instead of black, clouded like an injured memory or a darkened mirror. Each second of silence hides a dusty sonic ghost ~ the ticking of a clock, the tolling of a bell, the scribbling of chalk on a crowded wall. A 78 needle rotates in an empty groove; a pianist strikes solitary keys; wordless moans hit desperate notes. These specters have been here for ages, long enough to have forgotten their former lives. The flies one hears are from new corpses.
So no, this is not really the time of year for haunted music, unless one feels haunted by the weight of the past or trapped by the ice and cold. Bånsull is “an old Norwegian word for lullaby”, and this is the sort of lullaby one might hear while dying in a blizzard, surrounded by white-out conditions, one foot in the spirit world, another tethered to the earth. For the length of the album, the thin veil is torn, and one can hear the tendrils drawing near. No wonder Jansen’s daughter had nightmares. As for us, we just had to open that box. (Richard Allen)