Erland Dahlen reportedly “spends a great deal of time (in) offbeat second-hand shops (and) on eBay,” searching for vintage percussion instruments. And sure enough, barring the electric guitar that threads through a few tracks, only percussion instruments are utilised on Blossom Bells, his second solo album. But to describe it as an album of solo percussion pieces would sell it short.
The album is named after just one of the many instruments deployed on this collection of meticulously multi-tracked and multi-faceted studio recordings. Some of those instruments, including the titular chromatic ‘Blossom Bells’ themselves, were specially constructed: you’ll also hear, but perhaps not identify the sound of cake moulds with springs, a custom ‘percussion bass’, and a wind-up wood instrument with elastic band constructed by Bill Frisell’s go-to percussionist Kenny Wollesen.
The WW2-vintage Slingerland ‘Rolling Bomber’ kit that Dahlen used on his previous solo album, Rolling Bomber (Hubro, 2012) is absent here, replaced by a set of Ludwig WFL drums “from the late 30s”. Such specificity is a reliable indicator of the craft and attention to detail that’s gone into shaping the album’s six pieces, each of which has its own distinctive instrumentation, mood and texture.
On the first vinyl side there’s a restless, swelling and shimmering blend of sustained tones and mixed percussives (“Snake”); a vigorous kit drum-driven, chime-illuminated slice of post-rock that tips its hat, perhaps, to Tortoise (“Pipe”); and a piece that flirts with Earthen doom, drone and broad-horizon ambience, blending bowed saw and guitar, and ending in a soft rain of metallics (“Knife”).
And on the album’s flip side, there’s an abrasive, expansive abstraction of gongs, chimes and frictions (“Iron”); some improv gamelan that breaks into an uplifting, emphatically melodic and directional rhythm that’s driven by those WFL drums (“Hammer”); and finally a blend of bells, chimes and musical saw minimalism lent urgency by an injection of martial bass and snare drumming (“Blossom Bells”).
None of those capsule descriptions cover the full list of ingredients fed in to filigree the detail of each piece. But nothing here sounds overworked. As a whole it’s a lucid, deftly weighted and balanced recording. The track sequencing is spot-on too, the album flowing as one continuously compelling suite of music. And it’s an altogether more direct, tuneful and accessible set that Rolling Bomber (quite a contrast to another new album of solo percussion, Adam Gołębiewski’s rawly compelling Pool North (Latarnia) – my next review.
If you want to hear Dahlen in a group setting he regularly works with electronica duo Xploding Plastix, as a member of Nils Petter Molvær’s band, and in the trio Stian Westerhus and the Pale Horses, in addition to numerous other commitments: he’s apparently played on more than 160 recordings since the mid-90s. Start here though.
Erland Dahlen drums, hand- rack- and blossom bells, musical saw, toy robots, xylophone, log drum, gongs, cake moulds with springs, ‘percussion bass’, wind-up wood instrument with elastic band, temple blocks, steel drum, marching toms, maracas, typewriter, knives and forks, electronics, drone boxes, vocals, keys (keyboards? Perhaps not), guitars, sticks/mallets/bow on string instruments.
1982 – Pintura + Erland Dahlen – Rolling Bomber + Tore Brunborg/Kirsti Huke – Scent of Soil.
Stian Westerhus – The Matriarch and the Wrong Kind of Flowers + Sidsel Endressen and Stian Westerhus – Didymoi Dreams.
Buy Blossom Bells direct from Hubro.