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Album Review

Glue Works, Gösta Berlings Saga's debut for Cuneiform, arrived in 2011, and the veteran avant label has another winner with this Swedish quartet featuring keyboardist David Lundberg, guitarist Mathias Danielsson, bassist Gabriel Hermansson, and drummer Alexander Skepp. The music of Gösta Berlings Saga (named after an 1891 Swedish neo-romantic novel whose 1924 film version featured Greta Garbo in her first major acting role) should satisfy fans of avant-prog, electronica, post-minimalism, and post-rock alike — in short, the band is completely in sync with the Cuneiform mindset. Glue Works is dominated by two nearly 13-minute tracks, the first of which, "Island," begins with a subtle and understated chamber quartet-style arrangement of overdubbed cellos, with sensitive pizzicato and arco playing courtesy of guest Cecilia Linné. That calm introduction, also featuring eerie musical saw, is deceptive, however, as the group is soon smashing and bashing its way through an extended — even relentless — jam that builds and builds, layering in jagged riffs, roaring chords, swooping synths, sparkling glockenpiel-like accents and more over a 13/8 rhythm until it all dissolves into background Mellotron chords, harsh noise interjections, and a blurpy looping synth sequence. And then the bandmembers presumably began applying spackle to the new cracks in the walls of their Stockholm studio. Album-closing epic "Sorterargatan 1" (reprised from 2009's Detta Har Hänt) has an almost reverse dynamic: although slower paced overall, the first half is nevertheless agitated and layered with the band's full instrumental arsenal; during the second half a lovely theme builds upon a foundation of Lundberg's stately Fender Rhodes while always keeping beauty and lyricism to the fore — thanks in large part to the reappearance of cellist Linné — despite the unsettled underpinnings lurking beneath.

Among the album's shorter pieces, "Icosahedron" is particularly notable for its delicate and mysterious conclusion, with glockenspiel voicings and off-minor keyboard arpeggios suggesting that the legacy of fellow Swede Lars Hollmer is not forgotten by Gösta Berlings Saga. On "Gliese 58lg," a subtly overdriven Rhodes is augmented by clean and bright keyboards and ghostly overlays of sustained guitar tones and windswept chorales, only to be interrupted by electro beats and the dirtiest, most jagged guitar chords imaginable, just in case the first part of the song was inducing too many floating — and dark — reveries. With its steady, clubby midtempo rhythm and retro electronic treatments, "Waves" sounds like an instrumental experiment that landed on Roxy Music's cutting-room floor circa Stranded — only to show up later on a Phil Manzanera solo album — while the following "Geosignal," also brief at less than two and a half minutes, strives for a more orchestral sound (complete with real brass) over its deep and dirgey electronic pulse. Gösta Berlings Saga deserve plaudits for this musical mélange drawing from avant rock's exploratory past while pointing to its adventurous future. And credit Cuneiform for signing yet another fine band whose music is not wholly unexpected but unique in its own way.

Top Albums and Songs by Gösta Berlings Saga

Glue Works, Gösta Berlings Saga
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