Phantasmagoria, or A Different Kind of Journey (2021)
|Outbound, or Stubb1||
|Duløc, or The Cat's Eye||
|Manta Ray, or Soft Spot||
|Didn't See This One Coming||
|Soft Grey Ghosts, or Twilight Chamber||
|Inbound, or Stubb2||
|Light on Sanzu River, or Dreaming of a Boat||
"Phantasmagoria, or A Different Kind of Journey" is the latest album by the Eivind Aarset 4tet. Featuring Eivind Aarset, Wetle Holte, Erland Dahlen and Audun Erlien, the album is no departure in terms of the compositional quality contained therein, as it remains gold standard. But sonically and texturally? This album features more traditional guitar sounds and techniques than can be found on almost all of his previous albums taken together, while still incorporating his signature tonal manipulations that render the guitar sound into almost unrecognizable forms. The album traverses the full gamut of the instrument's tonal possibilities, from Joe Pass tones to ambient textural soundbeds, from blistering shredding to controlled noise and signal. The line-up is augmented by Jan Bang and John Derek Bishop on several tracks, and Arve Henriksen on one.
The compositions by turns can be straightforward instrumentals with a heavy groove, rhapsodic tone poems, quasi-ambient jazz, expressionistic campaigns of sonic annihilation, delicate variations and improvisational explorations built upon melody and harmony, and, not infrequently, a combination of any or all of the above.
The "Different Kind of Journey" of "Phantasmagoria" takes us through a preamble consisting of the hazy fuzz of "Intoxication" with its lazy backbeat and psychedelic tightrope walk of dreamscape over chaos, to "Pearl Hunter" with its bossanova groove filtered through ambient rock. From there we arrive at "Outbound or Stubb1" where the main leg of the journey begins and the beats kick in with greater intensity, and where post-punk guitar minimalism is given a 2021 makeover, before moving to "Duløc or The Cat's Eye" where 60s B-Movie score tropes blend with 70s avant garde and art rock, then stumble through a wormhole that takes them almost 50 years into the future. "Manta Ray or Soft Spot", with Arve Henriksen on trumpets, effortlessly glides into view, a sonic space where the marine vibes eddy and whirl with dreamy undertows and sun-kissed waves. Next on the itinerary is "Didn't See This One Coming", an aptly titled track that is better listened to than described (suffice to say, this is NOT something anyone familiar with Aarset's work would have expected). From the utterly unexpected, we move to "Soft Grey Ghosts", a textural piece that feels familiar, yet is somehow disconnected, drifting and swaggering with an extra step. The second stage of the journey progresses to its close with “Inbound or Stubb2”, the more experienced sibling of “Outbound or Stubb1", one that quotes from the journey and introduces new vocabulary and dialects extrapolated from it. The third and final leg of the journey is encapsulated in "Light on Sanzu River", a piece loosely derived from "Waiting on a Boat" by Anneli Drecker: filled with deep nostalgia for the past that lies behind, it also looks forward to the oncoming future with a bright optimism, a certainty that this part of the journey will lead to a better time and place.
"Phantasmagoria, Or a Different Kind of Journey" is an album that delivers a multifaceted experience: it is a soundtrack to an inner journey of remembered or imaginary landscapes and spaces; a travelogue of musical styles, sounds and eras; a simulacrum of the live touring experience. This album, perhaps more than any of his previous releases, is one that proudly and confidently wears Aarset's influences on its sleeve - a bold move, but one that serves to underline how he is infinitely more than the sum of those influences. This latest chapter in his weaving of the unified tapestry of his career shows how Aarset is capable of finding new threads in unexpected colours, of innovation and reinvention.