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Matthew Ruddick

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Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Thursday, 20 October 2016 18:13

Oddarrang - Agartha

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Ambient electronica meets jazz in the centre of the earth.

Oddarrang are a Finnish group of five members:

Olavi Louhivuori: drums, synths, voice

Ilmari Pohjola: trombone, synths, voice

Lasse Sakara: guitars, voice

Lasse Lindgren: bass, synths, voice 

Osmo Ikonen: cello, synths, voice

On inspection of the instrument listings you might anticipate a heavily electronic sound – you would not be wrong!

Agartha is the fourth album by this band and takes its name from a mythical world in the centre of the Earth. The individual track names follow this theme, suggesting a concept album reminiscent of many 1970/80s progressive rock groups.  The first track, Alethia, bears out this simile. Almost entirely synthesizer, this piece is pure soundscape without rhythm, introducing the mystical nature of the album theme. The cello warbling that opens Central Sun is the first indication that there is more going on than pure electronica. Played over a simple beat, we are introduced to the unusual element of the band as the melody is taken alternately by trombone and cello; of course the keyboards element remains strong throughout

Mass I-III, unsurprisingly, is in three distinct movements: sepulchral keyboards are overlain by a dirge-like melody on trombone; guitar arpeggios then underplay a fabulous pairing of trombone and cello; the final element is pure electronica supported by strong rock-based drumming.   I had not realised before how similar trombone and cello are in both pitch and tone, so much so that at times the pairing sounded indistinguishable, like a single instrument (with trombone providing the attack and cello giving sustain). This is the highlight of the album for me.

Admiral Byrd’s Flight opens with guitar arpeggios again, over which cello plays a double-bass style melody line. The music then swells as the band join in. The subdued vocals, half sung, half spoken give a simple narrative.  Telos / Agartha is another predominantly electronic number but exhibiting the trombone-cello pairing and an eerie, enticing oriental violin sound. The piece slowly builds a tension until it crashes into the second half, featuring human voice as an instrument.

Trombone provides the melodic lead to much of Age Of Chronos which uniquely has a varied and syncopated rhythm.

Agartha has elements of rock and some jazz but I would primarily define it as easy-listening ambient electronica.  I love elements of this album, particularly those with enough quiet space to enjoy the unique sounds but the overwhelming drive seems to be to create a wall of electronic fluctuation.  Clearly, with four albums to their name, Oddarrang have found an appreciative audience but for my own taste, I would prefer to hear them develop more their melodic elements along with more varied rhythm.

 

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