This third album from quietly prolific Norwegian producer Joachim Dyrdahl was inspired, in a somewhat roundabout way, by a trip he took to Indonesia to fulfill a 2009 commission for a new work; not, as originally envisioned, by the time he spent with a Javanese gamelan group, whose music he'd planned to intermingle with his own electronic dance stylings, but rather by a final week in Bali which, he reported, "changed his perspective on music forever." Certainly, Sagara seems to stem from a decidedly different set of impulses than the pair of party-friendly, groove-oriented Diskjokke albums that preceded it. Although it shares the same undeniable warmth and good feeling that have marked his work all along, it ventures into entirely new stylistic territory: languid, almost entirely beatless ambient music, or, you might say, new age. Not that the underlying musical sensibilities of this approach are all that far removed from the late 2000s/early-2010s brand of spacy, Scandinavian cosmic disco (Dyrdahl typical mode); the two have long co-existed happily on the Smalltown Supersound's roster, and indeed Sagara fits right in alongside the label's prior release, Pechenga's Helt Borte, as well as more recent fare from acts like Arp and Meanderthals, with its full, rich, slowly shifting billows of pure synthesized softness and haze. Amid a few more distinctive keyboard textures (such as "Golotrok"'s dreamy, organ-like fanfare and coda, which bookend many lovely minutes of subtle, lilting bass pulse and synth drift), Dyrdahl also makes magnificently sparing use of a few gentle melodic elements -- muted bell-like tones (most notably on the vaguely ominous "Mandena"), a tiny sprinkling of xylophones -- presumably the fruit of his sessions with the gamelan. The album's transcendent moment, though, comes with the final piece, "Panutup," which gradually meanders its way from amniotic haze into celestially chiming, Vangelis-esque synthesizer pop and then, unexpectedly, into a few blissful minutes of full-on 4/4 electronic disco that feels, on arrival, like the aural equivalent of a tropical sunrise, as though the whole album had been a build-up to that moment. Which is not to suggest, incidentally, that the rest of the album feels like it's missing anything, or is in any way inferior to Diskjokke's dance-oriented output. On the contrary, Sagara shows the Norwegian to be an equally effective mood painter without his trusty beats, and in some respects, his accomplishment here is his most adept and impressive yet.
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AllMusic Review by K. Ross Hoffman