Man Bird Dress
Man Bird Dress is the first EP of Svarte Greiner aka Erik K. Skodvin from Norway and released right in-between his solo debut Knive of 2006 and the follow-up Kappe of 2009. Such being the case, the impression of Man Bird Dress serving as a mediating release is quick at hand. However, this comparison cannot be applied to this three-part EP, for Skodvin gathers three stylistically similar tracks on it and approaches this project in the most humble way: neither are there particularly baleful surprises, nor are there piles of über-dark sounds. Consistency is the magic formula, and in this regard, the well-known emperor of the Dark Ambient genre succeeds. The moods on all three tracks aren’t terrorizing or pressuring at all rather than being focused on a gloomy nostalgia that is disassembled and altered as the EP progresses. Man Bird Dress relies heavily on the string side, with the omnipresence of lots of classic instruments plus the mandatory electric guitar looming and waiting. The other important ingredient consists of field recordings which are then usually perturbed by the more sinister sound waves that keep whirring in the background, slowly finding their way to the center of the track. As a result, Man Bird Dress is Svarte Greiner’s most formulaic release to this day. But is this a bad thing? I will tell you below.
Man launches the EP and even has the whole side A for itself, as its sinister doom can only burgeon properly in the given runtime of 14 minutes. Skodvin is known for the plasticity of his field recordings and noises he collects and records out there in the real world, and Man is no different, as it starts with a mélange of wooden clicks, metallic clangs and dripping water. The echoing waves around their nuclei suggest a deep pit or cavernous antrum. After almost 90 seconds, the first glaring-red electric guitar twangs are released, but they are outshone by a highly unusual element that hasn’t been found in the music of Svarte Greiner heretofore: it’s a mystified alto flute that plays clichéd New Age tone sequences, and if the setting wasn’t so tense and purposefully rotten, I would sure laugh quite a bit about its inclusion. Once there are further screeching guitar licks added, the wideness and depth of the surroundings becomes more apparent, as their sustain resonates unvarnished in the dark coves. An interesting inclusion are the occasional acoustic guitar riffs, as these are as dry as a bone and their attack surprisingly punchy. This alcove-laden launch phase of the interplay with lots of fissures for the sounds to sneak in or flow out of lasts about five minutes, after which a brazen haze is introduced, wafting banefully around a minimal piano melody that is placed in the back of the composition. Once a piercing drone arrives, probably of a string instrument – a violin perhaps –, the tension increases around the seven-minute mark. Spectrally howling figments traverse by, and as they leave, the song has morphed completely. The droning string, quavering ever so slightly, does now fill every crack of the implied cave, lying like a veil over the formerly clangorous setting. This very string is then digitally processed, sounding more and more like a demonic synth choir, resembling bestial voices of pain. As an additional bass drone is intermixed which resembles a distant waterfall, the song ends on a guitar note full of overdriven and pulsating string washes. Man is a progressive track, and whatever the encapsulated story really is, it seems like the source of danger, possibly the referenced man, is getting closer and closer to the listener. This tune has it all: eerie Ambient settings loaded with field recordings, pops and crackles, a variety of classic music instruments that provides for a great concoction between space, sound and sustain, and lots of dusky electric guitars whose crunchiness is revved up as the composition proceeds. It’s a Svarte Greiner song by the numbers – and that is meant as a compliment. It caters exactly to my Dark Ambient needs.
Side B takes off with Bird, and in contrast to Man, its plasticity and yes, even its soothing aura are upheld and maintained way more efficiently. Gurgling water, liquid clicks, occasional wind gusts and the distant guitar superimposition evoke a foggy creek with a far away threat. As it is rightfully suspected, this threat is coming nearer during the 9+ minutes of the arrangement. But this incident is placed far at the back. I can only applaud Skodvin for keeping the atmosphere tense and harmonious. I really did write just that: harmonious, for the listener has all the time in the world to adjust – or succumb? – to the atmosphere. Additional elements are carefully integrated, for instance the vibrating guitar strings, the grotesque birdcalls, crow-like sound waves and screeching spirals. However, it doesn’t help, the song needs to come to an end, the particles, droplets and string drones increase, the calm mood is now calamitous, yet fragile enough for the sustain to fade into the distance shortly before a new attack wave of various string instruments follows. The last 90 seconds or so are the cream of the crop in terms of their terror. It’s the pitch-perfect eruption for a suspense movie… intimidating, life-threatening, medulla-sipping. The final piece of this EP is unsurprisingly Dress, which is actually a live recording at the Sound of Mu festival in Oslo. Recorded in July 2008, Skodvin’s performance ruins your Summer and swallows the listener with the help of its processed guitar drones; they swell up, fall down, merge and depart incessantly. In order to not scare everyone off right from the get-go, the tension is built slowly, oscillating between a doleful melancholia and darker accentuations all the time. Shortly before the three-minute mark, a rudimentary percussion scheme is first introduced in the form of a single dropped beat. It is here that the drone layers are multiplied, the bass guitar adds voluminousness to the track, perturbing pink noise streams tower above the panorama, and the howling wind blows stronger than before. Dress fades out in its last minute, allowing one last glimpse at the different layers and the creepily elongated metallic clangs.
Man Bird Dress is a prime example of the stylistic device that is ubiquitous in Svarte Greiner’s music, but usually unmentioned: melancholia seems to drive and nurture all of his compositions. Everyone knows that cheap thrills aren’t the domain of Erik K. Skodvin, fair enough. But there are less people who know about the skillful concoction of this very melancholia with horror particles and at times even terror shards. All three compositions allow the listener to bathe in their melancholia, and right from the beginning a threatening incident is always in the far distance but approaches the sensing range and perception width of him or her without hesitation. It’s the interplay of forces, the ambience, field recordings, enigmatic mist and ill-natured aura that make Skodvin’s music so great. Another winner are the classic string instruments and the scattered piano notes that carry each track. Admittedly, the music of Svarte Greiner is formulaic on this EP, always fading in slowly, maintaining a certain standard of whirling noises and pernicious melodies before the final crescendo with the following, at times terribly thunderous, eruption is unleashed. If you can see over this particular formula, or if you even embrace this well-known build-up strategy, Man Bird Dress is a bewitched sepia-colored gemstone that will glow disconcertingly in your Dark Ambient collection. The vinyl edition is supposedly sold out, but the EP is available at every digital music store.
Follow Svarte Greiner on Twitter: @_knive.
Ambient Review 135: Svarte Greiner – Man Bird Dress (2008). Originally published on Oct. 17, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.