Erland Dahlen: Clocks

You can tell Clocks is a drummer's record. Built from the ground up, Erland Dahlen's forty-minute album presents a percussive panorama that supplements the customary kit (antique drums from the 1930s, it turns out) with gongs, xylophone, drum machine, bells, and frame, steel, and slit drums. But, perhaps recognizing the limited reach a percussion-only album might have, Dahlen works a melodic dimension into the album by adding musical saw, guitar, keyboards, mellotron, bowed instruments, electronics, and vocals to the mix; indicative of the adventurous sensibility in play, sounds of knives and forks and marbles rolling on a plate also find their way into the album. The result is an ultra-dense soundfield where separations between rhythmic and melodic elements largely collapse.

It swings, too, something the opening title cut makes clear in no short order. In this powerful scene-setter, earthy rhythms more indebted to Africa than traditional jazz or post-rock establish a firm foundation over which a thick cloud of fuzz-toned guitars, steel drums, and bells accumulates until the high-pitched warble of the saw emerges midway through. Slowing things to a ponderous level, “Bear” plods without losing any of the album's heft and muscularity in the process; if anything, the curdling tempo allows the bells, guitar, and musical saw details to be slightly more audible in the mix. The subsequent “Lizard,” presented in a remix version by Hallvard W. Hagen, dials things down further, and consequently Dahlen's bells and synthesizers stand out even more vividly.

Four of the six tracks push past the seven-minute mark, granting them ample space and time to build them into opaque epics, and adding to the material's spirited tone is an occasional vocal, such as the one wailing alongside the feverishly rambunctious base Dahlen fashions for “Ship.” Reference is made in the accompanying press text to the respective scores Antonio Sanchez and Stewart Copeland produced for Birdman and Rumblefish, and while connections can be drawn between those recordings and Clocks, a better point of reference for Dahlen might be Jon Mueller, a percussionist similarly bold in sound and vision. No matter: Clocks makes a strong enough case on its own terms, especially when its energized wall-of-sound pulls one so readily into its vortex.

January 2018