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Album Review

A greatest-hits album being out of the question, this collection — which gathers highlights from When's first six albums along with selected rarities and outtakes — is an ideal way for curious listeners to get acquainted with When's sprawling catalog, up to but not including 1999's Psychedelic Wunderbaum. Then again, with two and a half hours of consistently challenging material, this is no mere casual introduction. Track titles such as "The Black Death Jingle," "The Dark Abyss," "Warfields," "Ghosts," and "Frozen Atlantic" give an idea of the tense, morbid mood and dark imagery often surrounding this music. And it is the mood, rather than any specific style, that unifies the various tracks, as they can't be pigeonholed in the sense of, "What does When sound like?" Much of the music takes the form of beat-less, sample-based collages that incorporate real-life sounds (ticking clocks, church bells, horse hooves, factory clamoring, distant voices, gunshots, etc.) to create a strongly visual, narrative feeling. The long suite of excerpts from 1990's Black White & Gray is perhaps the most striking, unsettling example of this approach. Other tracks, including many of the ones from Prefab Wreckage, fall into more of an art pop category and show When's gradual move in a more song-based direction. When's range is further shown by the sinister, vibraphone-driven cartoon music of "Karius & Baktus" (from the 1987 debut Drowning but Learning), the choppy, suspenseful brass and percussion of "Death in the Blue Lake — Excerpts" (from the album of the same name), and the medieval folk collage of "The Black Death — Excerpts" (again, from the album of the same name). As if that weren't enough, there are also about 30 minutes of previously unreleased material as well as a few tracks that only appeared on now-out-of-print compilations from over the years. The only tracks here that sound at all dated are a few of the ones from the Prefab Wreckage era — the drum-machine beats sound stiff and boxy in places, actually giving a mid-'80s feel even though the album came out in 1994. It's also worth noting that while the tracks aren't arranged in chronological order, they are put together in a way that creates a logical flow from one to the next, which is again remarkable considering the wide range of sounds on hand. A very impressive package, this compilation will have many newcomers digging into their pockets to find out more about When, even if it does take some time to digest all of what's here.


Genre: Pop

Years Active: '90s, '00s

The brainchild of Norwegian composer/percussionist/keyboardist Lars Pedersen, When has produced a far-ranging body of work dating back to the early '80s, running the gamut from dense, dissonant orchestral music to sample-based collages to Beach Boys-inspired psychedelic pop. Given this range of sounds and styles, When's music is remarkable for its avoidance of the distanced, post-modern pastiche approach favored by numerous other avant-garde collagists, instead demonstrating a darker, more morbid...
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Writercakebox, When
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