When Saints Go Machine


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That Danish quartet When Saints Go Machine would inspire a bit of fan art specifically referencing a similar Depeche Mode photo shot from 1993 would seem to indicate what's at work on the group's second album, Konkylie. It's a bit of misdirection, though -- if anything, the electronic exploration and understated rigor on their exquisite 2011 release comes from Depeche's mid-'80s era and, more to the point, only makes one small part of the whole. A large part of the appeal lies in lead singer Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild, who's been tagged as a new Arthur Russell but whose voice slightly suggests, if anyone, Antony Hegarty. The key difference is that the parallel is Hegarty in his more structured and focused mode, evident more from his dance collaborations instead of his own fairly aimless songs. Yet again, that's not the whole story of the band's work either -- the swirl of sonic suggestions throughout the album ranges from Laurie Anderson to These New Puritans to Active Child to Planningtorock to Brian Eno and David Byrne's collaborations and much more besides, all tied up and presented as an immediate and incredibly enjoyable art pop album without apology, an increasingly distinct and unique prospect. "Church and Law" might seem like one of the most straightforward songs on the album but only after an extended introduction into the rhythmic clip of the song itself. Similarly, when "Chestnut" briefly breaks to the wispiest of synths it's all elegance; when it suddenly returns to full rhythm it's an embrace of electronic pop's ability to connect directly. "Kelly" could almost be a full-on Depeche swing and kick except that it's also a brilliant falsetto R&B mover, while the title track's initially drumless swoon and Vonsild's choired vocals are simply gorgeous listening. That the album wraps up on an energetic and playful note with "Add Ends," reverbed strings and gently increasing pace helping bring it home, emphasizes how well the group has found its place already.

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