The work of Rupert Lally and Espen J. Jörgensen is a lot like a tabloid-friendly romance. The duo have consciously uncoupled more than once, only to reform again each time. There’s no animosity, no conflict, just a compulsion to continue pushing out albums and to keep collaborating whenever they feel like it, typically followed by mutterings that each will be their last project together.
The result of this on-off-on again approach is a series of interconnected albums where the only connection is a firm willingness to do whatever feels right at that particular time. The pair have traded in ambient soundscapes, touched on pop and even mucked around with guitars. From a distance, being so outwardly inconsistent in terms of style could be decried as an incoherent vanity or therapy project never intended to be heard outside of the duo themselves; the reality is instead a rich seam of new ideas and new approaches, largely arising as a result of never physically working together in the same place as one another.
The 25-track Øde’s precedent lies in Lally’s last two solo albums, Day One and Scenes From A High Rise, both of which made heavy use of modular synthesis in their rich sound design, and both of which found Lally’s music taking on a somewhat uncharacteristically dark hue. Øde pushes that darkness to an extreme, the result being a nervous, edgy, tense affair full of cloying atmospheres and a panic-inducing analogue buzz about the sequences.
It would be tempting to view Øde as being a sonic representation of the parlous state of the world right now. Lots of such albums have begun to emerge as musicians variously attempt to direct their anger and resentment through their music; being mostly instrumental, Øde can’t rely on lyrical gestures to make its point. Instead, the album does a commendable job of encapsulating what it feels like to be living through all of this: the feeling that there’s something in the air, something restless, something not quite right that could develop into something far worse if not kept in check. Not for nothing does the album open with a tone-setting piece of sound design – echoes, muffled feedback, a tired voice – called ‘Getting Darker’.
While a lot of Øde relies on modular synth work, the album’s construction from lots of short pieces allows for a multitude of brief ideas to flourish, ranging from orchestral arrangements to wonky hip-hop, filled out by glitchy static and borrowed atmospheres. The pair have always traded voraciously in the markets of eclecticism, but never quite so liberally as they do here. No idea is allowed to develop into repetition, and yet each idea is developed just enough to avoid feeling like a collection of unfinished sketches. The approach feels highly democratic, as if each idea is afforded equal airtime in the album’s debate with itself.
Whether this represents another final album among final albums remains to be seen. If it is, Lally and Jörgensen may have just delivered their definitive statement; if not, what you are listening to here is surely part one of the soundtrack to the end of the world, as realised by its self-appointed resident composers.
Øde is released via Bandcamp – rupertandespen.com
(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence