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Viandra

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Album Review

Issued in Japan through Disk Union in late 2007 and in the U.S. by Cuneiform in May of 2008, Viandra is — astoundingly — Lars Hollmer's first solo album to be released stateside. And while the album could be considered Hollmer's first solo full-length disc since 2000's Utsikter, he hasn't been sitting on his hands for seven years. Rather, the peripatetic Swede has been gallivanting around the globe, performing and recording with the likes of Samla Mammas Manna, Accordion Tribe, and Fanfare Pourpour, the evidence being such discs as Dear Mamma, Sea of Reeds, Lunghorn Twist, and Karusell Musik. Hollmer has been busy as a collaborator, but even his own endeavors during these years (like SOLA and the Utsikter ensemble) have had a "band" orientation that somewhat de-emphasized those elements of his artistic persona first heard during the '80s when he emerged from under the Samlas umbrella as a solo artist in his own right with XII Sibiriska Cyklar, Vill du Höra Mer, Från Natt Idag, and Tonöga. In those days, Hollmer was often a creature of the studio, multi-tracking himself in the Chickenhouse, meticulously working out the details of his recordings not to make everything just right, but just enough wrong to cement his status as an "outsider" artist with an entirely unique and idiosyncratic sonic touch. Over two decades later — despite the appearance on various tracks of old friends like double-reedist Michel Berckmans and violinist Santiago Jimenez, along with cellist Andreas Tengberg and, in cameo appearances, drummer Morgan Ågren, Samlas member Coste Apetrea, saxophonist Ulf Wallander, and several Hollmer grandkids — Viandra is truly a solo Hollmer endeavor in a way not heard since 1997's Andetag and, before that, those aforementioned '80s recordings from the waning days of Von Zamla until Hollmer formed his Looping Home Orchestra.

The music on Viandra (which translates as "We + Others") was recorded and mixed between 2001 and 2007, amidst all the other projects that sent Hollmer packing up his accordion and rushing to the airport for the next flight out of Stockholm. Viandra: seven years in the making! And the cover itself would appear to be seven years in the making, if not even longer — Hollmer's photo collage encompasses a massive electricity transmission tower, misty cathedral spires, the wide world glimpsed through his airplane window, snowy composite exterior shots of his home and the Chickenhouse, and the intimate warmth of family and musicians inside the studio or glimpsed through windows, in doorways, or perched incongruously in unexpected places, along with whimsical and even surreal juxtapositions of iconic images with hidden or implied meanings. The music itself is as wide-ranging as that photo collage and as strangely — sometimes as magically — wonderful as anything Hollmer has recorded in his solo career. Lars dominates on keyboards and accordion and can also be heard on melodica, glockenspiel, digital drums, percussion, wordless vocals, mandolin, and more, while the strings and Berckmans' double reeds are secondarily the most dominant voices — almost as if the more chamber-esque elements of Utsikter were married to Hollmer's '80s solo work. Viandra thus suggests a sweep back from 2007 through perhaps a quarter century of Lars' solo music, but more striking is the mood that he brings to the 16 compositions here, which range from just over a minute to five and a half minutes in length: a sense of reflection sometimes touched with melancholy, a side of him sometimes lost in his collaborative projects with others.

"Alice" recalls the joyful innocence of "Simfågeldans" (the Tonöga version) and was written for an Alice in Wonderland theater project in the late '80s, but its conclusion turns harmonically dark accompanied by what sounds like a ticking clock — intimating ominous portents for the future. Likewise, "Prozesscirk" layers its primary themes, stated mainly by the strings and almost martial in their severity, over an undercurrent of keyboards and glockenspiel that peeks through at intervals, attempting to introduce a magical element but ultimately disappearing under the strings' increasing vehemence. Even the briefest and gentlest of interludes, such as the wistful "Moldaviska" with Hollmer on accordion, melodica, and piano, mixes simple beauty with elements of sad knowledge — this piece was written for a film about Moldavian girls returning home after escaping the underworld of Western European sex trafficking. Other pieces tinged with darkness, melancholy, or a sense of life's fleeting treasures include "Fosta 05," an outright funereal dirge with emerging hints of dissonance toward its conclusion; "Folkdron Menad," an elegiac rubato homage to Hollmer's departed dog Yrsa (also a bittersweet inspiration for "Yrsa Requem" from SOLA) featuring emotionally heart-wrenching violin from Jimenez; and "Sök" (Search), whose winding melody played on accordion and English horn and accented by pizzicato strings over a measured rhythm suggests that not all searches end fruitfully. However, Hollmer doesn't drown all of his lighter aspects in a sea of despair; Viandra is far more nuanced than that, and there are occurrences of untempered joy, innocence, and fun on the playlist, such as the uptempo polka-informed "Strutt." "Konstig" rocks with high energy and spirits and would have been a great candidate for a Global Home Project live set; "Påztema" is a gently swinging moonlit dance that ends a thematic line with a downward scalar tumble; and the driven "Snaabb" strips all elements of melody away to end with a twisted, window-rattling rhythmic finale played on bass keyboard, digital drums, and oddball percussion, perhaps even reminding some listeners that Hollmer penned the synth-dominated "Doppler" during the heady days of Von Zamla prog. Still, on Viandra Lars Hollmer's music speaks of journeys away and back home again to a place of good times with family and friends where emotions run the deepest, but where life stories don't necessarily have happy endings.

Biography

Born: 21 July 1948

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Swedish composer, accordionist, and keyboardist Lars Hollmer was a much beloved artist who escaped the notice of many during his lifetime but who nevertheless touched listeners across the world from Europe to Asia to North America. Given his longstanding membership in the quirky Samla Mammas Manna, he was often considered a progressive rock performer, but Hollmer could just as easily be placed in folk, avant-garde, world, or even classical categories. Upon hearing his music, however, it's also easy...
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Viandra, Lars Hollmer
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