sir Was

Digging a Tunnel

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Considering Digging a Tunnel's persistently chilled vibe, it's somewhat surprising to read sir Was (aka Joel Wästberg) describe it as an "existential dread-filled debut." That surprise is validated to a degree by the album's opener, "In the Midst." The Curtis Mayfield sensibility of the snappy percussion and super-smooth bassline are matched by the relaxed flow of Wästberg's rap. His avowal that "If you wanna have it you gotta start searching/If you wanna keep it you gotta start living" has more in common with Wooderson's (played by Matthew McConaughey) Dazed & Confused mantra, "You gotta keep on livin'...L-I-V-I-N," than it does with Camus or Sartre. But it would be foolish to dismiss the Swedish multi-instrumentalist on the basis of one line from a record that is an extremely dense confluence of musical themes and motifs. The album absorbs a myriad of styles and influences that include, but are not limited to, '90s hip-hop beats, psychedelia, and shades of trip-hop, all of which are bathed in light electronic washes. There are even bagpipes on one track -- yes, bagpipes. And the song in question is one of the record's highlights. "A Minor Life" dispenses with the pipes after a few bars, giving way to subtle dreamy synth lines, as Wästberg adopts a Wayne Coyne-like pitch to create an atmospherically spellbinding piece. Rather astonishingly, he played every instrument on the record bar the aforementioned bagpipes and the harmonica. The sheer range of sound on Digging a Tunnel is testament not only to his musical prowess, but also the restraint he employs in the application. "Leave It Here" demonstrates such control with baggy beats, electronic droplets, and slashes of punctuating synths. It's a less-is-more approach that serves him well throughout, but it can be slightly wanting when it comes to pace. The tempo would benefit from being quickened at times, as one track blurs into another, and given the range of styles and instrumentation you would hope for a more multicolored experience. But Digging a Tunnel remains a fascinating collage that suggests Wästberg has the imagination and ability to build on these worthy foundations in the future.

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