a closer listen

BJNilsen ~ Massif Trophies

BJ Nilsen is in great shape.  How do we know?  Look at these mountains.  By the end of his month-long Alpine hike, the artist learned a few lessons about difficulty, determination and perseverance, which are translated to this recording.  We hear heavy breath, cow herders and footfalls in snow, all part of the cold score.  The album even begins with a thunderstorm, no stranger to Nilsen’s oeuvre: a lengthy foreshadowing that prompts protest from the bovine populace.

Nilsen sees the mountain in metaphorical terms as well as physical: the hike a honing journey that reveals the innermost self.  In selecting recordings for this album, Nilsen attempts to be both representative and allusive, underlining beauty and danger in near-equal measure.  For every gorgeous, earth-bound passage (such as the cacophony of cow bells in “Rough Grazing”), there’s an opposing threat (the slow-growing drone and rumble of “Eaux Rousses”, suggesting an avalanche).  But the sonic landscape is much richer than the cover image would indicate, as if the artist took time to look into the nooks and crannies, embraced the sound of every tiny flock, and made his peace with the mercurial skies.  Not that Massif Trophies makes us want to visit the Alps; quite the opposite.  But by reflecting the ardors of the journey, the artist wins our admiration.  He’s out to capture the essence of the region, and to be honed by rock and time.

By “Camping Europa”, the early threats have dissipated.  Thunderstorms are replaced by the sound of running water, cow bells by church bells, nature by civilization.  The opening minutes are the harshest of the album.  It’s as if the return home is not what Nilsen has expected; he already longs for the simple difficulties of the mountain trail.  The long ensuing drone, in contrast to that of “Eaux Rousses”, seems more technological than archeological.  The formerly cherished items ~ cell phone, laptop, television, automobile ~ now seem suspicious.  This moment will pass, but it lasts long enough for us to share in the discomfort.  Perhaps without knowing it, we are walking into the Alps every day.  (Richard Allen)

Available here