Exercises in Estrangement and Gebrauchsmusik were Marcus Fjellström‘s first two albums, originally released on Lampse in 2005 and 2006. Listening to them now, in pristine new editions from Miasmah, it’s remarkable to consider how contemporary ~ even futuristic ~ they sound. But there’s also a bittersweet tinge to such assessments, as Fjellström passed away two years ago this month at the tender age of 37. There’s no telling what astonishments he might have provided in later years, but he leaves a legacy of incredible music.
We were never sure how to classify Fjellström’s albums, as he incorporated nearly every genre we cover. But we were sure what to call Fjellström. To me he was a kind and generous correspondent, and to others who knew him a creative yet humble spirit. His often dark music stood in contrast to a peaceful personal tone. In many ways, personal and professional, he is missed.
Back in 2005, few people knew any of this. Along came Exercises in Estrangement, which turned out to be a perfect title, in fact an overture for his oeuvre. Was it confidence or confrontation that inspired the artist to introduce himself with a pounding eight minute track, thickening in its final minutes to lean on the industrial fence? Whatever the intent, one can best describe it as bold. And then the lurking, pouncing “Jeux,” which winks at the international audience as the title’s translation is “Games.” By “Marionettes Revised,” the listener is pushed into a side tent at the carnival where little tin drummers come alive, porcelain dolls turn and smile, a mad cat frolics on the piano and all the exits disappear. In “Lev Poem,” the theremin appears, followed by savage snares in “Kandinsky Kammer.” Artistic references continue to tumble, as Wassily Kandinsky is called the father of abstract art; Fjellström honors his work with abstract music. And just as the LP seems to be stepping outside the earthly realm, form sets in ~ the artist seeming to say, “Yes, I can do that too.”
When we consider how long it takes most artists to make one great album (if they ever do), it’s even more remarkable that Fjellström returned only a year later with Gebrauchsmusik. His creative fire had been stoked, and ideas were tumbling out faster than he could write them down. Again, the opening track provides a clear indication that Fjellström’s tonal trajectory would be anything but clear: backwards-masking and a ghostly vocal marking “Reanimation Music” as more Re-Animator than resurrection. Each of the tracks has a distinct theme, although some repeat (“Fairytale,” “Dance,” “War,” “Death”). In these titles one can glean the back-and-forth nature of Fjellström’s music, which one might compare to Pan’s Labyrinth, in which wonder and horror wrap tendrils around each other, inextricably joined. In the first “War” vision, music boxes and rapid-fire percussion align on the same battlefield like regret and courage, retreat and attack. And “Dance Music” isn’t what most people think of when they think of dance; it’s more like a Maypole ceremony filtered through a phantasmagorical lens. (The recent horror film “Midsommar” comes to mind.) In “Festivity Music,” the music is anything but festive; only in “Consolation Music” does the artist allow some of his natural empathy to shine through. And this is the genius of Fjellström; by working within the mansions of horror, he came to love some of the monsters within, finding sympathy for humanity’s darker impulses without defending them. To extend the Nietzschean quote, he stared into the abyss, the abyss stared back, and he extended his hand. (Richard Allen)