Review: An Island

This is a film that allows Danish art-rock collective Efterklang to shrug off the sterilizing influences of studio professionalism. Created in collaboration with the independent filmmaker Vincent Moon, An Island is beautifully smeared through with patches of found sound and gently pulsating images — a powerful counterpart to some very intricate chamber music. Moon has an incredible history of capturing music-making on film, best known for his ‘Take-Away Shows’ — one-take session recordings from Arcade Fire to Phoenix — for the website La Blogothèque. A similar aesthetic is present throughout An Island.

 Opening with the amplified ambient wash of the Baltic Sea, the music eventually emerges from the natural soundscape as Efterklang deliver an acoustic rendition of ‘Raincoats’ from the back of a truck. The song fades away on an improvisational tangent — all meandering percussion suspended over loose vocals. At the film’s heart is a nighttime performance of ‘Alike’, finding a concentrated intimacy in the musicians’ old rehearsal shed amidst fragile violin lines and singer Casper Clausen’s agile shading. Certainly the pop stylings of Efterklang’s latest record Magic Chairs, which provides much of the music in this film, are a step down from the classically-structured fragments of 2007’s Parades, but they haven’t lost their propensity for incredible harmonic sense. Towards the end of An Island, the musicians return to their old school to perform ‘Me Me Me The Brick House’, underlining the great sense of community running through the band’s musical projects.

 Efterklang’s early musical steps quickly drew comparison to Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Rós, presumably on the strength of the Nordic connection and the latter’s pretensions to the experimental. Sigur Rós successfully navigated their way to mainstream banality on the basis of their own 2007 film, Heima — one and a half hours of Icelandic landscape-porn. I did worry that Efterklang were facing their own Heima-moment this year, so it’s a relief to see that all their maverick tendencies have been preserved. What Efterklang have always excelled in is their attention to timbre. In a wonderful scene early on in the film, the band run wild in an abandoned barn, making field recordings by throwing together logs and beating wooden fencing together with scrap metal. Glorious.

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5 STARS