Back in 2014, Danish trio Skyphone released the beguiling Hildur, featuring phantasmagorical art by Martin Sønderlev Christensen. This year, they return with Marsh Drones, along with the reissue of their earlier work: the concluding chapters of Lost Tribe Sound’s We Stayed the Path That Fell To Shadow.
“Imagine yourself like someone coming in on a rocket; the closer you come, the more detail you see.” These words launch Marsh Drones, immediately peaking the interest. This invitation is the LP in a microcosm. Its design is intricate, its web spun with a mix of materials from folk to electronic to ambient, eventually producing a tapestry. In contrast to Hildur, the new album is less abstract and jazzy, more homespun and welcoming. The acoustic guitar of “Saltlys” is like the prelude of an original fairy tale. When the phrase “hands to reach the moon” surface on “Marsksonder,” one thinks of the recent Apollo celebrations; the release could not be more timely. “Reality comes and goes,” the singers intone. Now consider Christensen’s new cover art. Every component exists somewhere; but nowhere outside of art do all these components exist together. The same is true of this music, and of science fiction: grounded in reality, reaching for the stars.
This being said, the album is inspired by the strange topography of Jutland: a real location with an evocative name. “Sedimentary layers, salty light and seawater” feature strongly in these marshes, although from a distance all seems flat and dull. The cover now becomes an expansion, some might say an exaggeration, of the impressions of these lands. Skyphone recreates the oddness of this map with off-kilter music, simultaneously welcoming and strange. Field recordings represent the earth ~ sometimes fertile, sometimes fallow. Electronic components represent industrialization. Whenever the listener feels they have reached solid ground (the Pink Floyd-isms of “Rungholt”), the tectonic plates begin to drift ever so slightly beneath their feet.
On “Linjer,” popcorn synths join glockenspiel to form a feeling of happy warmth, like a walk in the greenest parts of Jutland, backpack loaded with supplies and a couple good books. One imagines a guide to edible plants and a tale of magical realism: the same balance achieved by the album. The band writes that the music is “highly recommended for hypnotized walking on a variety of wobbly surfaces.” All roads lead to an imagined paradise on a mountain, but the residents are in no hurry; they also enjoy a wade in the marsh. The imaginary landscape becomes more real than the actual location, and even more appealing. (Richard Allen)