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Pjusk / Sleep Orchestra: Drowning in the Sky
Some projects come about serendipitously, one such being Drowning in the Sky, a collaborative outing between Pjusk (Norwegians Rune Sagevik and Jostein Gjelsvik) and Sleep Orchestra (UK-based electronic music producer Christopher Pegg). In this case, Pegg, prompted by a recommendation from his friend Juan Diego Burillo, listened to Pjusk's Tele for many months and then subsequently caught the group in performance at the Storung Festival in Barcelona. A meeting took place thereafter, which resulted in their collective decision to collaborate on an album, which, of course, became Drowning in the Sky (dedicated, incidentally, to Burillo, who died in 2012).
The material naturally draws upon the styles of the artists involved: Sagevik and Gjelsvik create much of Pjusk's music in an old cabin high in the snow-covered mountains, while Pegg's aligns itself to the kind produced by artists such as Murcof, Saffronkeira, Biosphere, and, yes, Pjusk. So one comes to the project expecting heavily textured and atmospheric dronescapes as opposed to glossy pop songs, and that's pretty much what the album's fifty-seven minutes provide: shape-shifting ambient-drone settings drenched in mist and fog. In these detail-packed productions, nature-based field recordings merge with brooding tones and washes to evoke barren Norwegian plains where townsfolk shield themselves from harsh winds and sub-zero temperatures. The muffled rumble of earth tremors, the murmur of voices, and crackle of electricity also surface within the trio's landscapes, some of them bereft of beats and others subtly animated by plodding beat patterns. Such albums are typically ponderous in tone, and while that's generally the case here, too, light does sometimes peek through the cracks.
The collaborators' material is solid, with a representative piece such as “Vansunbarth” elevated by a disarmingly lovely and Eno-like synth melody that rises above the portentous whooshes and oceanic clicks. Drowning in the Sky also benefits significantly from the contributions of guests on two of the seven tracks: Taylor Deupree and Kåre Nymark Jr. on “Skdiv,” and Tomasz Mrenca on the Pleq remix of “Rionzemef.” Deupree's credited with Kyma on “Skdiv,” but it's the trumpet playing of Nymark Jr. that one will remember most, to some degree for the simple fact that the instrument can't help but stand out when heard within a largely electronic context. That being said, Nymark Jr.'s echo-drenched playing is memorable on its own terms for its declamatory cry, its voice so strong it's able to pierce the thick haze of the backdrop, and Mrenca likewise makes a strong impression when his vibrato-laden violin gently soars across an insistently surging base during “Rionzemef.”