Lumen Drones is a new collaboration between Hardanger fiddle master Nils Økland and guitarist Per Stainar Lie and drummer Ørjan Haaland of Norwegian ‘post-rock’ group The Low Frequency In Stereo. The trio classify themselves as a “psychedelic drone band”, and cite as influences the Doors, The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and Durutti Column. But those American influences don’t tally, or only tell part of the story. To my ears, Lumen Drones marries the distinct tonalities of Økland’s Hardanger fiddle—its drone-based harmonics rooted in Nordic folk music—to psych- and post-rock. But the other music it mostly closely resembles is that of Australia’s Dirty Three.
Like the Lumen Drones trio, Dirty Three play open-ended music that stretches perceived time with languidly unspooled and emotion-charged melodies. But where Dirty Three’s instrumental electric rock evokes the ocean as sun-scorched outback mirage, and Warren Ellis imbues his reveries with the feel of rough-hewn backwoods balladry, Lumen Drones’ music is more trancelike and coolly haunting, cold seas music.
Nils Økland should be familiar to anyone who reads this blog from his playing in pared-back acoustic trio 1982. It’s great to hear him stretch out in this context. Press notes describe the evolution of this music from “‘improvisational demos’ (recorded) over a long period of time, jamming on a melody line, riff or rhythmic pattern. … The themes can be fixed but are played always with variations, like folk tunes, and much of the music is drone-based, harmonically.”
The “Dark Sea” is a reverie, with Lie’s elegantly simple chords gently lapping against the listeners conscious as Økland bows tremulously, his lines invested with tremulous suspense of suppressed passion, as if with bated breath. The tension is dissipated immediately by the prickling guitar and rumbling percussion of the introduction to “Ira Furore”, through which Økland’s fiddle breaks like sunlight. That initial ominous swell subsides on an easy rhythm, and Lie strums reverb-rich atmospherics, adding touches of wah and distortion as Haarland’s beat firms up, accreting a psych-rock haze of sound to bolster an ultimately muscular, propulsive forward momentum. Throughout, Økland’s fiddle, though sometimes submerged, carries the melodic charge of the music.
At 12:15, “Ira Furore” is the albums turbulent epic. “Anemone” brings renewed calm, with Lie plectrum-picking a bucolic melody bathed in the warmth of the fiddle until Haarland introduces a pulse. Lie’s guitar is multi-tracked, his unshowy serpentine soloing and picked vibrations layered over grainy, perma-whorling feedback. The effect is similar to the airbag drone and chanter-piping of bagpipe music, and perhaps that’s why it marries so effectively with Økland’s fiddle playing.
“Echo Plexus” could be named for Lie’s introductory picking, to which Haarland introduces a pulsing, martial rhythm that builds inexorably in intensity as Økland plays in emotion-stirring rounds, grinding out raw soundings only on the breakdown.
Most tracks here offer some form of contrast to their neighbours, but the next pairing serve to set the overall tone of the recording. “Lux” sets the trio’s individual elements in crisp, clean counterpoint, with Økland elaborating on Lie’s open picking and Haarland marking time mostly on cymbals. “Husky”, at 1:32 the briefest piece here, is likewise elegant in its unforced economy.
After the pulse-steadying brace of preceding tracks, “Keelwater” finds the mood becalmed. Økland’s fiddle frosts the music’s limpid surface, its flatness troubled only by intermittent bass drum pulses, time marked only by Lie’s strumming. From this near-stasis “Svartaskjær” fades in abruptly, the trio already locking into a more urgent dynamic. Haarland’s drum track is more emphatic, and Lie is plugged back in to his effects array, soloing on one track while bolstering Lie’s work with a looped bass-line pulse on another. Økland’s fiddle also sounds amplified, whipping up a sonic scurf before soloing fervently over another guitar track, a looping riff that plays the album out.
This is a superb album. It flows on serpentine dynamics but, thanks to its drone harmonics, exerts a mesmerising influence.
Nils Økland fiddles; Per Steinar Lie guitars; Ørjan Haaland drums.
1982 / Moskus / Håkon Stene – A/B / Mestertyven / Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal.
Christian Wallumrød Ensemble – Outstairs.
1982 & BJ Cole – 1982 + BJ Cole.
1982 / Erland Dahlen / Tore Brunborg & Kirsti Huke – Pintura / Rolling Bomber / Scent of Soil.
Buy Lumen Drones direct from ECM.