By sheer coincidence, Gaspar Narby and Henrik Blomfelt both grew up in Switzerland— though Blomfelt was born in Finland— but didn’t meet each other until they were grown and both studying in London. This is the kind of happy accident one encounters in one’s life and relationships, the type of serendipity that makes some marvel at what a small world we live in.
Everyone has akin experiences that tempt them to imagine that their lives contain meaningful signs or symbols. Maybe someone has been thinking about a friend they haven’t seen in ages, and then happens to run into them randomly in an indiscriminate cafe, for example. Instances like these help one weave narratives about the robustness of community and relationships— for example, that everything happens for a reason and that our friends are meant to be in our lives.
Each title on Blomfelt & Narby’s debut album Peter, Barbara, Beth & Friends names a member of what may be a group of friends and provides a snippet of information about them. “Peter is OK Now,” “Trevor Left A Message,” “Kevin Has Been Thinking About His Taxes Too Much.” Imbued with a familiar intimacy, they read like bites of idle conversation. A standout track, “Kevin Has Been Thinking About His Taxes Too Much,” begins with vocal samples that are chopped up such that no actual words can be made out, like a strained attempt to be heard. The track is club ready, with a driving beat and a catchy percussion rhythm. While the album notes mention an “extroverted dancefloor joy,” the piece also contains an isolating darkness.
Sure enough, just two tracks later on, “Beth Is Crying.” A high pitched beep-sounding drone opens this track and sustains throughout, reminiscent of the ringback tone of an unanswered call – another missed connection. parse and devastating piano chords are the only conversation.
The rest of the album continues to play with this intersection of joyful togetherness and melancholy loneliness. “Simon Took A Break” might also be heard on a dance floor. The track slowly adds sonic layers, building texture which diminishes and rebuilds itself throughout, never quite coming to a full climax. The track is energetic and hopeful. And yet, an atmospheric quality within the ambient backdrop speaks to desolation, embodying the album’s cover art in the form of sound.
Blomfelt & Narby write, “We often wonder whether our music is for the club or for the living room.” Indeed, this record can be enjoyed either way. Peter, Barbara, Beth & Friends explores the junction of social and private life and breaks down ideas one might hold about the meaning and stability of community. The album seems to celebrate togetherness, while characterizing it as uncertain (and perhaps this sentiment can only be fully elaborated and understood in the post-pandemic world). Maybe friendship is fleeting and random; maybe relationships don’t contain the essence one imagines. Thus, Peter, Barbara, Beth & Friends can’t exactly be described as cheerful. It is thrilling at times, tragic at others, and often both at the same time. Certainly, the range and intensity of emotion in this album make it an absolute delight to listen to– no matter the setting. (Maya Merberg)