The first collaboration by cellist Henrik Meierkord and house producer and flute player Pawel Kobak is a jarringly playful collection of songs that bounce from sweeping ambience to rave-ready dub breakdowns— and then back again— in a matter of tracks. Indebted to the “Wild West”, Marhia takes cues from the cinematic lineage of American composers without compromising the techno background of its creators. The album swiftly crosses genre barriers with the blink of an eye, focusing more on thematic cohesion than textural consistency. The resulting seven tracks paint a loose image of a long drive in the Western United States, traversing vast deserts and glowing cities, attempting to make sense of the bridge between the two.
Marhia opens with the plaintive, dryly direct “Drone Strings, Pt. 1,” which is four minutes of exactly what its title implies. Meierkord and Kobak trade legato runs on their respective instruments (so technically, not just drone strings, but woodwinds as well), setting up a theoretical thesis for their explorations of the lonesome crowded west. The following track “El Paso,” seems to solidify this sonic palette with delicately warped drums enveloping the central cello motif, which certainly sounds like the theme to a harrowing Western. It’s in this liminal space between traditional classical and boundary pushing production where Meierkord and Kobak operate best, leaving room for just enough experimentation to confuse the listener where a composition is headed.
The following two tracks “Aeoe” and “Clear” quickly uproot the established mood with a series of driving synth loops that emphasize Kobak’s ability to conjure a hypnotic groove with as few sounds as possible. Meierkord’s cello still lingers on the periphery, though it sounds consciously pushed away for the bright allure of dance music. The latter track most successfully connects to what’s come before in its shameless centering of a modulated bell kit patch that paradoxically complements the lulling background strings. Such stark juxtaposition creates lively tension in an otherwise mildly uptempo club track that might feel muddied in an alternate sequencing.
The record swings back to its wide open vistas with “A lonely cello,” which also benefits from its proximity to such jarringly different arrangements. It’s here where Meierkord fully comes into his own player alongside Kobak, waxing poetic atop hushed background noise that only flirts with stealing attention. The following “Horizon” reaches an apex of these combined styles, bringing back the flanging percussion and dreary ambience of “El Paso” over a pulsing synthesizer that’s ever reaching towards some ethereal destination that never quite sees the light of day.
Marhia ends with the 13 minute opus “A walk by Slussen,” which plays out as a necessary comedown after an album full of intense back-and-forths. The preceding tonal shifts eventually feel like outliers as the track emphatically slushes on in its commitment to establish a newfound sense of tranquility. At nearly a third of the album’s length, it reads as the thoughtful penance of exit music, reflecting on previous tracks with a knowing finality. Field recordings and lugubrious strings expertly allow room for contemplation of the journey required to get there in the first place. The wild west has not been conquered, but it has been seen, and all that is left is to revel in the comfort of getting to experience it. (Josh Hughes)