My listening experience of Apparatjik‘s first album, We Are Here, benefited from low expectations — which may sound like the damnation of faint praise, but it’s truly a pleasant surprise. A little history of the project: Apparatjik is a “super group” featuring Jonas Bjerre of Mew, Guy Berryman of Coldplay, Magne Furuholmen of a-ha (yes, that a-ha), and Martin Terefe. I’m not sure how this haphazard collection of musicians came together, but they initially released one nice, if underwhelming, song, “Ferreting,” for a documentary series about Amazon tribes. And that seemed to be the end of that until they re-emerged months later as an enigmatic cyber-performance art group, with a vaguely musical component. Their cryptic MySpace page asked “Are you an Apparat-chick?” and only friended their female acolytes. The page consisted of abstract video clips, pixellated photographs, and some half-baked song samples. The band sent new fans scurrying across the internet on elaborate Easter egg hunts for clues about their next move. The whole thing was infuriating, and honestly, kind of dull. Then came the insane headfuck of their official website, an interactive cube with hidden links to random YouTube videos, art, more song clips, and band photos. The guys seemed more interested in messing with their hapless fans (who, at that point, didn’t even know what they were fans of) than actually producing music. By the time they announced that an entire record had been made, I just assumed it was recorded on a lark, during a lost weekend, and would be stuffed with pointless electronic noodling, instrumental filler, and some unsatisfying vocal tracks thrown in for good measure. Also, judging by the promo photos, it seems like they did more skiing and beer-drinking than laying down tracks.
But you know me. At this point, I’m a sucker for anything that Bjerre has had a hand in; overwhelmed by curiosity, I bought the digital download and braced myself for the inevitable disappointment. And something remarkable happened.
I like We Are Here. A lot.
Sure, it’s kind of a trifle, and there are one or two iffy moments, but overall the album works. Even more remarkable, instead of pointless filler, I find that I enjoy every single song on here. When was the last time that happened? Bjerre and Berryman share vocal duties,* and although Mew fans will complain that Berryman’s voice is lacking (they’re probably biased — I’m sure Coldplay fans will eat it up), I find that contrast fascinating. Bjerre’s voice is such a creature of the air that when played against Berryman’s more earthy (and somewhat average) voice, he sounds divinely inhuman. Furthermore, Bjerre-as-vocalist often sounds more comfortable in Apparatjik’s synthesized landscape than the aggressive guitar-prog of Mew. Note the transition between singers on songs like “Supersonic Sound” and “Electric Eye” and be shocked by how pristine he sounds.
Apparatjik bills itself as experimental, but between Coldplay, a-ha, and Mew, we’ve got some serious pop sensibilities going on. Make no mistake, this is a pop album with tidy little numbers. Occasionally the songs have tacked-on “Oops, we forgot to be wacky” noise-collage endings, which are unnecessary, but forgivable. Almost. Album opener “Deadbeat” starts the electronic apocalypse, aping the familiar Mew trick of pulling the melodic rug from under your feet every few seconds. My knee-jerk reaction to the bouncy-frantic “Datascroller” was “auto-tune travesty,” but it grows on me –like fungus –largely owing to Bjerre’s childlike refrain and a lovely dark piano interlude. The album’s programming is alternately icy (“Snow Crystals,” and “Antlers”) and sunny (“Arrow and Bow” and the joyous “Look Kids” with its Polyphonic Spree-like choral plea of “Look kids, the sun is out/ do you know what this means?”). The standout track, first single “Electric Eye,” is far grander than it has any right to be, especially considering it’s slightly by-the-numbers.
Right now, the album is only available for download and/or pre-order through Apparatjik’s shop.
right-click: Apparatjik — “Electric Eye”
*Correction: It seems I was too hasty in assuming that Berryman is the other singer. Furuholmen and Terefe also lend vocals to the album — but I do believe that Berryman is featured prominently on “Electric Eye.”
I don’t understand a word of Danish, but the NRK site posted a video interview of Mew’s lead singer Jonas Bjerre and guitarist Bo Madsen talking about the new album, No More Stories... What I can tell you is that the video gives us our very first sound-bytes of a few new songs. From what I can hear, the music sounds a little more upbeat, and a lot more straightforward, than 2005’s moody space opera And the Glass-Handed Kites, but still ambitious as ever. The brief clips give me hope that this album will let the songs (and the vocals) have more breathing room; Kiteswas beautiful, but frustratingly dense in its production.
Video highlights for a non-Danish speaker: a few more minutes to gaze at the adorable Bjerre is always welcome, and He of the Magic Moustache (that’s Madsen, for those who aren’t hip) has a fancy new haircut!