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Friday, March 16, 2012

The fascinating bricolage of Norway's Alog

Posted By on 03.16.12 at 01:23 PM

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Since 1999 the Norwegian duo of Dag-Åre Haugan and Espen Sommer Eide—who work together as Alog—has made some of the hardest-to-pin-down collage-style music I've ever heard. I've never been too sure about what instruments they play—album credits are scant—but whatever they're using, they command a seemingly huge catalog of sounds, which they combine into beguiling songlike constructions. The group's fifth and latest album, Unemployed (Rune Grammofon), is the most complex and satisfying one yet; the CD version, which I have, runs 75 minutes, and a limited-edition four-LP version is twice as long.

Most of the music is instrumental, though Norwegian singer Jenny Hval and Dutch sound poet Jaap Blonk—who just concluded a week-long Chicago visit—turn up on one track apiece. Elsewhere the duo samples scratchy old 78s of Scandinavian folk music—wonderfully piercing cries from such a recording make up the whole of the 36-second "Zebra." On other tracks frequent collaborator Sigbjorn Apeland pitches in (on harmonium, electric piano, percussion, and ukulele), as does brilliant viola-violin duo Sheriffs of Nothingness.

When I first listened to the new album, I thought to myself that Alog had come a long way from their electronica roots, but going back to their earliest music I realized that they were never really electronica in the first place. They assemble their music using computers, and certain pieces clearly borrow from the repetitive thrum of techno—whether it's the simple, flanged beat of the title track or the relentlessly rhythmic string sawing that opens the epic, shape-shifting "Last Day at the Assembly Line"—but what registers in the end is patient metamorphosis, as hard-to-identify sounds transform, develop, and give way to others.

Unemployed is the most demanding of Alog's recordings. The music isn't inaccessible—it's more about beauty than anything else—but it gives up its details slowly. Appreciating it fully requires time and effort, but that process is so pleasurable it hardly feels like work. Below you can listen to one of the album's most stream-of-consciousness tracks.

Alog, "The Weatherman"

Today's playlist:

Cheikh Lo, Jamm (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
Robbie Basho, Bonn Ist Supreme (Bo' Weavil)
Jonas Holgersson, Snick Snack (Moserobie)
The Gist, Embrace the Herd (Cherry Red)
Sonny Burns, Satan's a Waitin' (Righteous)

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