Patrik Torsson: Kolväteserenader

For five years, Swede Patrik Torsson alternated between working at sea as first mate aboard an oil tanker and offshore creating music at home. Ultimately exhausted by the routine and craving more time to concentrate on music, he cast ashore for a longer break and Kolväteserenader (Hydrocarbon Serenades), his first release, is the result. The album's eleven tracks offer recollections and observations spanning those five years, about experiences and people he met along the way.

The eleven tracks form an evocative travelogue, an impression strengthened by the seamless segues that bridge one song to the next. In “Stora Bält-passagerna,” Torsson takes the listener on a navigational tour through the Great Belt, the sea-area between some Danish Islands, to view Kalundborg, a city on the eastern side of the island Sjaelland, while “Brofjorden-åskan” finds him recounting the sudden onset of a lightning storm at Brofjorden on the Swedish west coast. Elsewhere he plays raconteur, recalling the eccentric sea pilots he met (“Lotsenbrüderschaft Elbe”), the tornadoes and intense winds he witnessed (“Tromberna,” “Vindväggen”), and the bottled letter he dropped into the water near the island of Gotland, eventually retrieved by a Finnish woman (“Flaskposten”).

Just as evocative is the music generated from electronic and acoustic elements. Guitars, vibes, piano, and harmonium voice gentle melodies amidst fuzzy skitter and electronic beats, with field recordings of dripping water sounds, creaking noises, and crowd chatter appearing intermittently for added atmosphere. The musical style is typically melancholy, even nostalgic, although some songs are more upbeat. “Brofjorden-åskan,” for example, is jubilant melodic electronica whose bass-driven beginning grows in intensity with the addition of squelchy beats and moogs. Interestingly, the musical style and yearning melody of “Flaskposten” evoke Múm or Sigur Rós, and one of its sections features a muted instrument that recalls Jon Hassel's signature trumpet sound. With its propulsive beat, stuttering organ lines, and guitar-electronics melodies, the instrumental “Avmönstring” is especially Múm-like, but that shouldn't surprise as Summer Make Good possesses a similar oceanic dimension and home-made, rustic feel.

There is one thing, though, that considerably weakens Kolväteserenader and that's the incessant Swedish voiceover. Torsson recites programmatic texts on most of the recording's eleven tracks and, while his voice is pleasant enough and admittedly does add a unique quality to the album, it's too distracting and undermines the listener's attempt to become wholly immersed in the music. A more musically satisfying approach would have included the writings as a textual accompaniment to the disc.

August 2004