Erland Dahlen: Bones LP

LP released October 30th 2020

Star percussionist’s onrushing wave of sound features vintage drum-skins, a musical saw and marbles rattling on a plate
The music on Erland Dahlen’s ‘Bones’ hits the listener like a headlong onrushing wave. Propulsive percussive rhythms combine to create a massive motive force driving a pathway through an intricately layered soundscape of ancillary instruments. Here, the eerie, wavery pitch of a musical saw meets the uncanny timbre of bowed zither and ghostly wordless vocals amidst a forest of obscure electronic drones culled from Moogs and Mellotrons, bells and gongs. There may even be the whirr of what sounds like helicopter rotor blades amongst the mix.
While Dahlen is a drummer, such a basic job description doesn’t really get close to what he achieves on ‘Bones’, the latest and fourth edition in his evolving series of solo albums that also includes ‘Clocks’ (2018), ‘Blossom Bells’ (2015) and ‘Rolling Bomber’ (2012). For ‘Bones’ is like a minimalist symphony of repeating themes and motifs, but one that uses the most maximal of percussive resources available, from vintage Slingerland trap-drums and mallet instruments to metal pie-dishes and marbles rattling on a plate. In six separate tracks over two LP sides, Dahlen – who composed and played everything himself, bar one electronics-assist by Hallvard W. Hagen (of Xploding Plastix) on the song ’Swan’ – has produced a sophisticated suite or audio-collage where key elements appear, depart and return again to interweave at intervals throughout the album’s duration.
The cumulative effect of the dizzying array of sound-sources on ‘Bones’ is intoxicating, with a thrilling, epic quality to the music that lends an aura of classic rock – complete with echo-laden thumping drums – to the otherwise impeccably experimental and cinematic feel. The rock and post-rock elements are important because Erland Dahlen, born in 1971, is one of Norway’s most versatile and in-demand drummer/percussionists, well-known for his previous work with Hanne Hukkelberg and Anja Garbarek, and the bands Madrugada and Xploding Plastix (from where his relationship with Jens Petter Nilsen and Hallvard W. Hagen – who contribute to all the solo albums – stems). Dahlen has also guested with some of the most respected Norwegian jazz and experimental artists, including trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, and guitarists Stian Westerhus and Eivind Aarset, and with Kaada/Patton, the collaboration between Faith No More’s Mike Patton and Norwegian composer/singer John Kaada .
This very broad experience, of the kind that comes only from playing lots of different types of music with lots of different bands and sessions, perhaps helps explain the very personal character of Erland Dahlen’s own solo projects. “The whole idea for the solo albums came from the fact that I have recorded a lot of records with other musicians over the years, nearly 250 of them”, Dahlen says. “I wanted to have a project that I could record and play live just by myself. This might sound selfish but over the years I have turned up some musical ideas that didn’t fit with other projects and bands, so I thought I might be able to use these ideas myself. The plan was just to record one album but gradually the solo project became more important to me. For ‘Bones’, like on the previous albums, I have worked with Jens Petter Nilsen and Hallvard W. Hagen from Xploding Plastix. I used a lot of custom made instruments for this album, with different log drums and a custom made zither-bass, plus chromatic blossom bells and different metal sources like huge serving plates.”
The result is an amalgam of musical styles and resources that sounds entirely itself, with no obvious debt to other artists. Less obviously cinematic than the preceding ‘Clocks’, Dahlen’s ‘Bones’ marries real and virtual instruments, thunderously thumping drums and electronic shimmers, and the realms of the analogue and the digital into a tumultuous, even joyful combination of songs that can be successfully apprehended as one continuous whoosh of sound.