Efterklang‘s Under Giant Trees is an EP of such astonishing range and emotion that nothing comparable immediately comes to mind. Expanding upon the sound developed on their last record, Tripper, this eclectic group from Copenhagen have outdone themselves. These five songs are heartbreakingly beautiful, melding organic melodies and subtle electronics into delicate waves of sound, creating a record that leaves the listener in anticipation of their upcoming full length, not due out until the fall. (I can’t help but worry that the follow up can’t possibly be so consistent and well done as this EP, but the optimist in me, some small shred, is holding out that this is only a teaser.)
Stylistically, Efterklang evoke different artists of various genres, but do not actually sound like any one of them. The usual elements of guitar/bass/drum/piano/strings are present, augmented by horns, voice, and computer. These are so uniquely and totally integrated into the compositions, however, as to distinguish the band and make their sound completely unique. The electronics resist being harsh or abrasive, instead working organically in the context of the songs, and are rooted in rhythm, melody, and density. In “Towards the Bare Hill,” for instance, what sounds like a door opening and closing, foot steps, and the floor creaking, are turned into a rhythm. And unlike many “post-rock” bands, Efterklang makes ample use of vocals as an essential element of their sound and character as a group. The vocals are not sparse, nor do they bring to mind pop arrangements or catchy melodies. Instead the vocals are an integrated part of Efterklang, but in no way take away from the originality of the instrumentation. Never do we hear a lone voice, but always accompanying others, or in a chorus. This adds to the emotional impact of the vocals, but also makes them blend more completely with the instrumentation. The melodic climaxes are phenomenal, developed slowly and carefully put together, and become instantly memorable. The standout track “Himmelbjerget” features such a high point, it’s haunting melody transcending it’s moody backdrop. The names comes from The Heaven Mountain, the highest point in Denmark, at about 15 meters high. Unlike the hill, however, which only appears giant because of its low surrounding, this song actually sores high by any standard.
The record layout is wonderful as well, designed by artist-friend of the band, Nan Na Hvass, and inside the cd there are some magic puzzle cards. My only complaint with the record is that it ends so abruptly, as if a track is missing. “Jojo” doesn’t fade out, but is carried off by rising, uplifting brass chorus that suddenly ends. I suppose this is a clever ploy to get us to anticipate the LP, but oh such a cruel gimmick!