Johan Agebjörn / Mikael Ögren: We Never Came To The White Sea
Spotted Peccary Music

By fashioning We Never Came To The White Sea as an “original soundtrack to an unreleased road movie of the same name,” Swedish artists Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren devised a novel way to make their collaborative project more interesting than had they simply issued it as a set of instrumentals devoid of narrative content. And said movie isn't a conceit: one actually was filmed in Russian Karelia (formerly Finland), the birthplace of Agebjörn's grandfather, and with all ten track titles referencing site-specific locations, the album plays like a travelogue spiriting the listener through the snowy landscapes of Northern Russia near the eastern border of Finland. In keeping with its concept, tracks are often animated by propulsive rhythms, which both gives the music strong momentum and turns it into a distinctive ambient-techno hybrid.

Adding to that distinctiveness are a small number of inspired choices. Ethereal vocals by Sally Shapiro and Anneli Andersson appear (samples in Shapiro's case), and Anders Frostin contributes viola playing to the concluding two tracks. While the album never feels less than contemporary in its overall sound and production values, there's an undeniable retro feel present, not to mention a nostalgic dimension that emerges when certain moments evoke the ‘90s rave scene.

Listeners of a certain age might be reminded of both Pete Namlook and Laurie Anderson when the haunting overture “As I Passed the Vyartsilya Border Crossing” eases the album in with Andersson's “O Superman”-styled vocal accents and delicate synthesizer sequencer patterns—a deeply atmospheric and full-scale production of cinematic scope that bodes well for the journey ahead. The forward motion initiated by the opener carries over into “The Lights of Lakhkolampi Pass By,” where a beat pattern suggestive of early Warp-styled electronica is slathered with heavy doses of ‘90s-styled synth melodies. Nocturnal sojourns through wintry landscapes form part of the itinerary, resulting in brooding set-pieces like “0:55 In Matkaselkya” and “Sleepless On The Kostomuksha-Petrozavodsk Night Train.”

Field recording details sometimes thread their way into the mix, a case in point “Relentless Rain Over Ladoga,” which blossoms from its rain-soaked beginnings into a full-blown trance-techno production replete with throbbing synth melodies and a pumping, bass-powered groove. Perpetuating its vibe is “Aurora Over Odega,” Agebjörn and Ögren's remix of a Tommy ‘86 track, which aligns Shapiro's sultry voice to a resplendent blend of vocoderized vocals, wailing synths, and heavy, downtempo drumming. As We Never Came To The White Sea moves into its final chapters, a softer, twilight ambiance sets in to signify the journey's imminent end. To that end, “Sunset in Vodlozerski” makes for a soothing come-down after the album's propulsive middle section, after which Frostin's viola playing enlivens the subdued acid-techno pulse flowing through “The Rajakarjala Forests.” Throughout this polished full-length, Agebjörn and Ögren lavish each track with circumspect detail, resulting in a release whose ten parts hold up effectively as high-quality stand-alones but also come together to make a powerful cumulative impression.

March 2017