In August of 2011, members of Danish indie electro band Efterklang traveled to the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, an abandoned Russian settlement near the North Pole. In Spitsbergen they spent time in the abandoned mining town of Piramida recording sounds in and around the decaying remnants of the leftover industrial remnants, including huge silos acting as reverb tanks and the world's northernmost piano. This audio expedition yielded more than 1,000 sound samples that the band would build this record (also named Piramida after the village) around, but moreover, the trip to the cold and isolated ghost town far from any semblance of civilization seems to have informed the icy feel of this gorgeously crafted album. The band didn't rely strictly on the field recordings they gathered, but rather assimilated them into the ten songs here with tasteful restraint. The opening plunks of "Hollow Mountain" seem derived from an unnamed piece of disused mining equipment, but quickly the song takes on an electronic sheen, with fragments of both string arrangements and a heavenly choir poking through almost subliminally in the song's pristine landscape. These seamless arrangements are what makes Piramida such a glowing affair, even when the majority of the songs have a deeply melancholic undertone. Frozen synths bubble over with found sounds on "The Living Layer," a spacious field of sound awaiting an ice storm, with vocalist Casper Clausen standing dead in the middle awaiting nature's wrath. "The Ghost" opens with long drones from muted horns, stretching into infinity as a slinky rhythm fades its way in. The band's ability to make bloodless electronic rhythms sound at home with organic instruments and field recordings land the sounds on Piramida somewhere between the bleary-eyed heartbreak of Bon Iver, the pastoral openheartedness of Sigur Rós, and the slicked-back porcelain cool of Matthew Dear. "Black Summer" stands out as the strongest example of this wild and beautiful synthesis, with some kind of netherworld glockenspiel stand-in setting the pace for grooving baritone horn sections and tight, minimal rhythms. In less skilled hands, this arrangement would be too busy, even ugly. As presented by Efterklang, however, the unlikely marriage of cold, Bowie-in-Berlin-esque funk and maximized random sound snippets comes off as the most natural and lovely expression of hopeful despair imaginable. Much of the record follows this incredibly nuanced path, giving it uniquely brittle atmosphere, and ranking among the band's best work.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas