There’s a certain sadness to be felt on Sofandi, as we come to terms with the thought that this might be the last BABEL album. Jakob Rehlinger claims to have said all he can say, and has tied the strings together on this album, incorporating influences from the past eighteen years. But he’s gone on hiatus before, and the title is Icelandic for dormant, so one never knows; the moniker may once again lie beneath the dirt like a cicada, only to reemerge a generation later.
The album contains two immersive 20-minute tracks, “Deyjandi eldur 1 and 2”. The translation: “dying fire”. The music does sound like a dying fire, although first it rages like Dylan Thomas, with rising drones, throat singing and saxophone. From time to time, gorgeous chimes sound, adding a meditative aspect to the long goodbye. One can imagine this piece being played at the artist’s “final concert” in Toronto earlier this month, throwing it all in the fire, allowing the conflagration to rise, perhaps poking at the embers to prolong the experience until all light has died. The music is elegant and mature; Rehlinger is now an experienced storyteller, and he knows not to rush, stretching the music as far as it will go, reflecting the last two syllables of his name.
The cover hints at heaven and hell, the name of the project suggesting the tower that rose toward the heavens, only to be cast down. Yet here everything is in balance: the colors, the shapes, the sounds. According to legend, all of earth’s languages were once one; in Sofandi, Rehlinger practices a sonic version of Tikkun Olam, looking back on his own life and collecting the shards. Finally all is woven together, past and present, electronic and acoustic, memory and hope. The clearer (albeit wordless) singing at the beginning of “2”, decorated by bells, suggests a clearer voice, a clearer path. Is this really all there is to say? If so, this is a fine note (or series of notes) to end on.
As the final chords fade, we protest: come back! But dormant is not dead. Perhaps, in our hour of need, we’ll hear such music again. For now we have echoes and elegies and a lump in the throat. (Richard Allen)