Published Sep 13, 2019Most bands that take an extended break tend to scatter across the globe in search of solo pursuits — but not so for Efterklang's Casper Clausen, Mads Brauer and Rasmus Stolberg. The band's cleverly titled new album, Altid Sammen ("Always Together") is a winking reference to the past seven years, in which the group of childhood friends from Sønderborg, Denmark were busy exploring newfound territory — together.
"We're not necessarily hanging out on a daily basis, but we hang out a lot," says Clausen light-heartedly in a phone interview with Exclaim!.
Friends for over 20 years, the trio have co-written and performed an opera as part of the Copenhagen Opera Festival, as well as created a new group (Liima) with touring drummer Tatu Rönkkö since putting pause on all things Efterklang.
Altid Sammen, the band's fifth studio album, finds the three Danes returning to form following a period of intense creativity and rejuvenation. Known for their sweeping soundscapes that span dozens of musicians, vocalists and collaborators, Efterklang's new material is surprisingly pared down, stripped of its usual grandeur in favour of a quieter brilliance that shines just as brightly as — if not more brightly than — its predecessor, 2012's Piramida.
Drawing inspiration from previous collaborations with Antwerp's genre-bending Baroque Orchestra X and other likeminded artists from the 2018 Berlin PEOPLE festival, Efterklang produced what Clausen describes as the group's most pristine studio album to date.
"We tried not to come out with too many muscles, but to keep the attention on creating a space that's inviting to step into, even though its alien and Danish. I felt a big difference was that we allowed our musicians and the guests that we invited to be a bit more free than we had been on previous albums."
Improvisation has always played a key role in Efterklang's creative process, giving its members the freedom to explore new sounds and spaces and, ultimately, to grow from the experience. From unique field recordings to celestial choirs, they tend to leave no stone unturned, so it makes sense that Clausen, ever the sound enthusiast, decided to experiment by singing in his native tongue. Despite having lived outside of Denmark for nearly ten years, his voice fills Altid Sammen with the most beautifully articulated Danish, speaking on themes of love, loneliness and togetherness with rawness and intimacy. It's a powerful performance that cracks open the very core of Efterklang for the world to see.
"I was curious to know what it would sound like to sing in my own language," he says. "I think there's something fascinating about using language as a catapult to something exotic — not necessarily through the lyrics themselves, but more through the sounds of the language."
It is precisely this curiosity that continues to propel Efterklang forward and cement their relevancy two decades on; Clausen's experiment is a resounding success and the effects are twofold. Through his vocal exploration, not only does he open up new avenues for himself but also for listeners. Devoid of the usual English semantic cues, Altid Sammen takes the listener outside themselves and, in many ways, brings them closer to Clausen, Brauer and Stolberg's fascination with its sonic elements.
"Generally speaking, we've always really liked having all kinds of different instruments in our studios. Over the years, we've had harps, weird drums, strange synthesizers and all these tools lying around to make sounds," Clausen notes as he describes the band's penchant for finding new sounds to tinker with.
In many ways, Altid Sammen is the band's most mature and cohesive work to date. It masterfully captures Efterklang's inherent drive to create, as well as their deft ability to pack a punch with little more than, say, a lute. It also signals a new beginning, and with it the promise of future endeavours that yield music just as innovative, emotive and moving as these songs.
Yet, it's the album's ability to invoke feelings of community and togetherness that truly set it apart. It's the story of three childhood friends, but also the story beyond them.
"In a way, it is referring to the three of us in Efterklang making music after all these years, and also maybe starting to appreciate the space we have together. This idea of making music or projects in Efterklang — we can create something that is way beyond ourselves as individuals."
Altid Sammen is out September 20 courtesy of 4AD.