Quiet Pop Music

Håkon Stene
Lush Laments For Lazy Mammal

A different mood from his last release, Etude Begone Badum. That featured works by Lars Petter Hagen, Alvin Lucier, Marko Ciciliani and Michael Pisaro. This one has pieces composed by Gavin Bryars, Apartment House’s Laurence Crane, Christian Wallumrød with two pieces arranged and one composed by Stene himself.

Stene has produced a new-music dinner party classic for today’s exciting world. Utilizing higher production values here than on Etude Begone Badum, he helps you impress your pompous rich friends and secure funds for your latest madcap pop-up restaurant venture. Or vintage emporium. Or live cinema empire. Or just invest in some nice taxidermy. Take it from me; Lush Laments For Lazy Mammal will induce a profound sense of well-being in any listener.

The first track, ‘Prelude for HS’ by Laurence Crane, seems to blend into the following piece; it occurs to me that the instrumentation Stene uses is quite similar, which may be a deliberate influence on his choice of material. This second piece, an attempt at ‘Hi Tremolo’ by Gavin Bryars, is for vibes, marimba and two pianos. The piano here is played by Heloísa Amaral, the vibraphone and marimba by Stene himself. Having listened to Bryars’ original version from his 1981 album Hommages, I’m struggling to see how Stene thought he could improve on it. “Ah yes,” I hear you cry, “but surely the point is not to improve upon an existing recording, merely to bring the work to a new, younger audience?” Damn. You got me there.

Then there is a run of four pieces composed by Laurence Crane; ‘Bobby J’, ‘See Our Lake I’, ‘Riis’ and ‘Holt’. The fifth cut, Stene’s realisation of Crane’s ‘Riis’, soundtracks, in my mind at least, the things to do on a Saturday night in a semi-rural area you’ve just moved to. For example, skateboarding in a churchyard, nocturnal hill-walking, driving your brand new Jaguar aggressively around the country roads at full pelt (overtaking on blind bends and hump-backed bridges, that sort of thing), or perhaps eating an excellent meal of locally sourced game and partaking in a couple of medicinal sherries in that lovely country pub in the next village. While draining your third pint of lively guest ale, you’ll notice the irony in the fact that your local paper carries a front page advert for new housing carrying the slogan “Discover Your Dream Home In An Idyllic Location” strapped over a photograph of a beautiful young family strolling through a sun-dappled clearing with lush woodland in the middle distance – presumably this is the location in question; the very field that’s going to be dug up to build said Dream Homes. But you’ll be so entranced by the magic of ‘Riis’, (and the real ale), that you’ll almost be tempted to buy one off-plan there and then.

Bucking the Laurence Crane-heavy trend, ‘Low Genths’ is a composition by the Norwegian jazz pianist Christian Wallumrød. Wallumrød has an extensive back catalogue, making him well-known in Norway, and including a recent release also on Hubro. Wallumrød plays the piano on this recording. ‘Low Genths’ is more abstract and diaphanous as Wallumrød skitters around the keyboard before periodically resolving the tones into authoritative chords – certainly a more abstract approach than most of the rest of this album.

Lush Laments For Lazy Mammal closes with Stene’s final Crane selection: ‘Blue Blue Blue’, a melancholy piano piece performed by Stene. Perhaps it’s a little austere and literal with the necessary repetition the piece demands, but again, this is what should endear it to a wider audience. I feel almost like I’m listening to a strange, quiet form of pop rather than a music from the classical end of the spectrum.

While it’s harsh to use the word “dour” when considering this album as a whole, as I said before; although it is a very accessible route into contemporary composition for the unsuspecting casual listener, I think perhaps it will be seen as a marker pointing Mr Stene toward darker, more challenging territory in his future repertoire, or at least I hope that will turn out to be the case.

Also noted by Steve Hanson here