After years of producing experimental electronic music as Klive and providing tour support to the likes of Jónsi and Swords of Chaos, Iceland's Úlfur Hansson is now delivering his second release under his own name.
Arborescence takes the myriad skills the young composer has honed over the years to make his most distinct and cohesive work to date. The album commences with a title track that builds modest cinematic string swells into a cacophonous squall of reverb-drenched black metal drumming and skittering electronics before settling into an utterly breathtaking melodic string passage to end on. So varied and unexpected is its trajectory that the song acts as a microcosmic mission statement for the album's intent — if not explicitly its content.
There's an even greater breadth of creative sound arrangement on display over Arborescence's seven tracks than is hinted at on that powerful opener. Úlfur pulls out the secret weapon that is his beautiful singing voice on the second track, another piece populated by gorgeous strings but one that detours to warm ambient drones rather than juxtaposing with unexpected ferocity. From there, Úlfur lays out a top-notch IDM interlude that wouldn't sound out of place on Radiohead's Kid A before delivering the album's most accessible track, "Fovea," a lovely, harmonically sophisticated folk ballad swimming in ethereal production flourishes.
"Serpentine" finds the composer back in cinematic mode, pitting strings and Vespertine-esque harp against deep, sparse electronics. "Weightlessness" is easily the un-easiest listen of the album, a dark creeper full of dense synth walls doing queasy pitch dives. Hansson ends on another avant-folk ballad, the more sombre but no less beautifully produced "Vakandi."
Arborescence is the work of a major talent, but its propensity for scattershot sonic excursions is likely to limit the number of listeners that'll appreciate every nook Úlfur feels the need to explore. (Figureight)