Monday, November 29, 2010

Lars Hollmer - XII Sibiriska Cyklar

Lars Hollmer passed away over the Christmas holidays of 2008 at the age of sixty. Outside of his native Sweden there was little heralding of this quirky and original artist. Upon leaving his role as keyboardist of Sweden's most famous progressive rock group Samla Mammas Manna, Hollmer went on to release a series of unique solo albums as well as several collaborative works. Much of his music was produced at his own home built studio known as The Chickenhouse in Uppsala in Sweden. In the late 90s and early 00s, Hollmer gained international recognition though his work with Accordion Tribe, a five piece collective of accordion players from different countries around the world. He also collaborated with other avant-garde musicians such as Fred Frith, formerly of Henry Cow.

Hollmer's debut solo album "XII Sibiriska Cyklar" was almost exclusively recorded alone at The Chickenhouse and contains all of his trademark idiosyncrasies. This extremely diverse album hops from merry accordion jingles to melancholic piano balladry, interspersed with menacing oddities that wouldn't be out of place on an album by The Residents. Although the album tackles traditional templates such as waltzes and folk dances, he places his own unique stamp on every track.

The album begins with the beer-hall waltz of "Avlägsen Strandvals" which features accordions, whistling and demented backing vocals typical of the album culminating in a drunken singalong. The playful  "Piano De Jugugte" follows where the accordion takes a back seat to Hollmer's bell piano and quasi-yodelling. By the time the manic one and a half minutes of "Hajar Du Idealfamiljen" have passed by, one could be forgiven for expecting a whole album of novelty accordion music. However, the albums fourth track, the brooding  "Endlich Ein Zamba" takes the album in a completely different direction combining African influenced drumming with jazz tinged accordion and piano. "Inga Penga", perhaps the most accessible track on the album follows with a melancholic piano riff and one of Hollmer's most emotional vocal deliveries. As if to combat the conventions of the previous track, "Kamelsväng" combines effect laden synthesizer/organ with furious guiro stroking to create one of the albums more challenging tracks. 

The second half of the album begins with the humorous accordion ditty "Ja Änte Flöttar Ja Te Sjöss" which sounds somewhat like a parody of Nordic folk music. "Boeves Psalm", one of Hollmers most celebrated works, begins with an enchanting accordion melody which is gradually built upon by keyboards and bells to create one of his most charming compositions. "Boeves Psalm" was later covered by future collaborator Guy Klucevsek who described it as "one of the most beautiful melodies ever written,". After the bouncy instrumental  "Jag Vδntar Pε Pelle", the album returns to darker themes with the atmospheric "Bluesen" which consists of spoken lyrics over a repetitive piano and vibes riff, supplemented by distorted guitar. After forty-four seconds of a recorded music box (as referenced in the track's title "44 Sekunder Köpt Speldosa") we are met with the what is probably the albums most unusual track, the demented "Ung Harald", which features text from the Swedish poet Dan Andersson. This wonderfully varied album comes to an end with the sorrowful "Lite Piano", a solo piano track baring little relation to anything else on the album which was recorded on Hollmer's tape recorder in 1976.

This enthralling album represents only a very small sample of Lars Hollmer's large back catalogue and whilst several of his later albums are of similar if not equal quality, none were quite as diverse and daring as "XII Sibiriska Cyklar". The truly unique mixture of innocence, sophistication and menace displayed on this album makes it more than worth a listen for anyone with an interest in unique, captivating music.