I described Dahlen’s 2018 album Clocks as “a dark musical hinterland of quite stunning beauty” and having lived with it for a couple of years my only regret is that I awarded four stars, not five. An intoxicating post-nujazz collage bringing together shimmering electronic textures, deep sub-bass, pounding beats and some unforgettable melodies, it’s an album I’ve returned to many times since.
Initially released in vinyl-only format, Bones very much picks up where Clocks left off. Dahlen’s vintage Slingerland drum kit again takes centre stage, the foundation from which each of the six propulsive new pieces is sprung. Detail is fleshed out with a bewildering array of small instruments, from handbells to gongs, bowed zither to guitar and a bank of vintage analogue electronics, and more often than not the melodic top notes are accented by Dahlen’s ghostly musical saw. Mixing and production are bright and punchy, and once again everything just seems to hang together perfectly.
While the flow of the tracks may feel a little less interconnected than on the highly cinematic Clocks, each is nevertheless a standalone triumph. It opens with the ritualistic drumming of Desert, chiming guitar arpeggios surfing a sea of bass drones and ambient noise. Wagen is altogether quieter and more reflective, its shifting bass and gamelan effects recalling drummer Bobby Previte’s criminally overlooked 1990 masterpiece Empty Suits. Closing side A is Hunt, probably the album’s great compositional tour de force. A rock anthem of giant proportions, its heady chorus is carried aloft by the devastatingly effective juxtaposition of ecstatic wordless vocals and the slightly menacing rhythmic undertow.
Swan is the only piece which finds Dahlen bringing in external assistance, Xploding Plastix associate Hallvard W. Hagen adding spacious digi-dub effects. Bones takes Dahlen back to the kit, and as he pounds a thunderous Japanese taiko beat, overlapping sound fragments collide before a neat segue into the closing track and its surprising melodic resolution.
Dahlen is undoubtedly a post-jazz composer and improviser, and it makes no sense to judge his music in any other terms. With a signature sound defined by an extraordinary imagination and his obvious talents as a composer, player and producer, he is one of the very best of Norway’s exciting new generation.
Desert; Wagen; Hunt; Swan; Bones; Blind (39.00)
Dahlen (d, pc, kyb, elg, elec, v); Hallvard W. Hagen (elec) on 4. No date or location, c. 2020.