Larsen | Review

Swans + Low + Young gods = Larsen

When our dear editor threw this one in my lap, my interest was piqued immediately. First off, Rever was produced and released by Michael Gira (of the Swans) and his label, Young God Records. I am definitely all ears when Gira endorses someone. To add to my interest in hearing this CD, I was told that Larsen, despite the Scandinavian sounding name, is an Italian band. And not only that, as unlikely as it may seem, it is an Italian band that I've heard compared to Godspeed You Black Emperor. I don't know about you, but to me, it seems the only time Italian musicians get melancholic is when they sing about their mother, while the rest of the country's musical output is as sunny as the country itself... But what tops all of these things is the story behind Rever. Apparently Gira had been receiving anonymous CD-Rs from Italy for about a year. Every package arrived punctually on the 1st and 21st of the month. No explanations were attached. Eventually, a letter arrived, with a wad of cash, tickets to Italy and instructions to show up in Torino. Gira showed up to produce the band, but never saw their faces. All the playing happened behind a screen. Gira himself says of the recordings: "they're excerpts from a sound/ceremony that was ongoing, documented by a (hopefully) non-invasive stranger." You'd think this a stunt carefully constructed to achieve some sort of end. But, clearly, this is not a CD that will sell by the bucketful. Nor is it a CD that needs justification for its existence. In fact, the music on it more than stands on its own feet. So why the bizarre tactics? Perhaps it was a way to snare the legendary Gira. Perhaps it is true what Gira hints at, that the musicians need to hide their identities for legal reasons. Perhaps Gira himself is in on some kind of inside joke. On to the music...I'd say the Godspeed reference isn't the best comparison. Sure the mood is gloomy, but the instrumentation is somehwat different. A band that comes to mind (and no, not only because of the label name) is the Swiss combo Young Gods -- specifically their album of Kurt Weill re-interpretations. There is a strong flavor of decadence to Rever, not to mention accordions (all tastefully added). There is also some of the same insistent, percussive repetition of themes that the Gods practiced on their albums, such as on track 5. But then there are gentle, languishing guitars that soothe. And jazzy horns that wrap darkness around you as you listen. The vocals, when they are present, vary from spoken Italian to plaintive humming that turns to whispered lyrics. If you are a fan of the Swans, GSYBE, Young Gods or the Ilk, and you'd like to hear what those bands would sound like softened at the edges and slowed down to a steady pace, this may be for you. Think of those bands merged with a dash of Low's melancholic, melodic slow-core, and you have Larsen. A pleasant meeting all around. Â