Shortly following the early 2015 release of Johan Agebjörn's solo album Notes (easily one of the highlights of his career), the Swedish electronic musician announced that Sally Shapiro, his beloved Italo-disco-inspired collaboration with an anonymous chanteuse, would come to an end after the release of a final single, "If You Ever Wanna Change Your Mind." By no means was Agebjörn finished with making music, however. He soon began working with his neighbor Mikael Ögren on a few remixes, and by 2016 they had finished recording an album together. We Never Came to the White Sea appears on Spotted Peccary, the parent label of Lotuspike, which released Agebjörn's solo albums Mossebo and The Mountain Lake. Like those albums, which contained material Agebjörn had been working on since the '90s, White Sea is closer to ambient and new age than Agebjörn's work with Shapiro or his 2011 neo-disco solo album Casablanca Nights. Mossebo contained a two-part composition titled "Siberian Train," and all of the song titles on White Sea reference obscure Russian or Finnish locations, so the album similarly evokes a trip through the snowy European countryside. The liner notes even state that the disc is the soundtrack to an unreleased road movie. The album is somewhat somber and gloomy, but not bleak or frigid, and there are a few hints of the playfulness of Notes, with a few discofied melodies peaking out from the chilled synths and unhurried tempos. "The Lights of Lakhkolampi Pass By" is an early highlight, starting off calm before delicate yet bouncy beats appear, laced with effects recalling mid-'90s Aphex Twin, but less caustic. "Relentless Rain Over Ladoga" is the most trance-influenced track, beginning with the sound of rainfall before developing a percolating synth bassline and a hypnotic midtempo beat. Eventually, shimmering, echo-covered tones and vocoderized singing join up with Agebjörn's recognizable melodies. "Aurora Over Odega" (the duo's remix of a track by synthwave artist Tommy '86) features the sound of Shapiro's voice, but it's sampled and used as an instrument, combined with vocoders, suspenseful melodies, and slow, dramatic '80s synth-drums. Later songs on the album have more of a dusky, moonlit feel, with slow, swirling beats and soft, comforting melodies. The final two tracks feature icy, ethereal viola playing by Anders Frostin, who couldn't be more appropriately named. Majestic and expansive, White Sea is a remarkable journey, and an easy recommendation to anyone who enjoyed Agebjörn's previous works.
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AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson
feat: Tommy '86