Mollmaskin – Heartbreak In ((Stereo))

Mollmaskin – Heartbreak In ((Stereo))

A place for everything and everything in its place.

I’m listening to Mollmaskin’s debut album.

My first and lasting impression is of the attention to detail across every aspect of this album, even the packaging. This double CD comes in a sleeve emulating a gatefold vinyl album, but perfectly miniaturized. (I had a digital version, so please don’t be concerned if that isn’t 100% accurate)

The songs are what we should be concentrating on and the attention to detail is no less apparent here. The performances give the music an endearing innocence yet many of the songs are tinged with melancholy whilst others have an uplifting edge. I warmed to it straight away.

From the opening bars of the first track I was struck at how different this album felt to some of the stuff I’ve been hearing lately. Firstly, there’s a casual feel to the performance on the first few tracks that gives the songs the feel of a band jamming in a massive garage. That is not a fair indication of what follows. If you bail out now because you want clinical, quantized, sequenced, perfect music played by virtuosos – not that the musicianship isn’t extremely good – that would be your loss. Why? Because this album is beautifully performed and in places quite moving.

This is what Autumnsongs say about their artist: “Mollmaskin was born in Vestnes, Norway, behind a Fender Rhodes Mark II in early 2006, before morphing into much-loved psychedelic adventurers Flashback Caruso, in Trondheim. As Mollmaskin, Anders Bjermeland operates alone, playing drums, piano, guitar, saxophone, flute, organ, Rhodes, bass, clarinet, synth, percussion and vocals. In the summer of 2014, Bjermeland spent two weeks in Autumnsongs Recording Studio, together with Rhys Marsh, and they recorded what was to become the debut Mollmaskin album. The result, ‘Heartbreak In ((Stereo))’, is …up here with the finest of the late-sixties Canterbury scene’s artists”.

Well, they’re selling it on it’s supposed affiliation to a genre and that means that I can’t help but use this. I don’t sort my listening by genre. But if I did this would easily fit on the…

Progressive Rock shelf.
Oh wait, the Jazz shelf.
No… the Art Rock shelf.

Mollmaskin “…combines folk, jazz, indie and progressive music” [so says Autumnsongs].  Yes, there’s undeniably some jazz in there. As if there were any doubt about there being jazz influences then Nightmare City Suite positively swings. But citing references to genres won’t do it justice and this isn’t just a jazz album.

I can see why Autumnsongs have to generate interest by referencing the Canterbury scene.  The instrumentation is evidently very carefully chosen and adds to the nostalgic feel. But this is more. Whilst there’s a bit of a Robert Wyatt vibe going on some of the tracks – and I think I hear references to Van Der Graaf Generator – this is not an overwhelmingly nostalgic rehash of old prog.

I am also reminded of more recent bands, who are not afraid to mix in instrumentation and sounds from other genres. I’m thinking of bands and artists who throw in chord sequences that you don’t find too often in Rock. I’m reminded of Radiohead in their less “commercial” later phases, Emmett Elvin’s beautiful and adventurous solo album, Bloody Marvels and the arty rock of David Sylvian. I’m even getting hints of Ben Folds and his fantastic work on William Shatner’s album, Has Been. Note, I’m not saying “sounds like” here… “just reminded of” so don’t expect to hear what I hear!

This album is a bit of a sleeper… The realisation of just how sophisticated and complex the writing and performance is started to dawn on me by the time I got to the fourth track, How Many Ants.

Oh, and how wonderful the recording of these sounds! The saxophones on Never Able are as good as any brass section from 1940s Swing era bands and are perfectly counter-balanced by the Fender Rhodes and sumptuous, almost atonal vocal harmonies.

The title of the album may be a line in Nightmare City Suite, but it might also give insight into how important Mollmaskin considered the mix to be. I sense that at least a part of this was down to the involvement of Rhys Marsh who shows similar attention to detail in his own work and in that of his band, Mandala.

The songs are mixed in such a way that the instruments appear to have been placed carefully and deliberately across the stereo spectrum. I can’t pick out any one aspect of the instrumentation and give the impression it was better than any other. Throughout much of this album there is an excellent combination of drums and full bodied bass. There’s some extremely subtle brushwork going on during Halvtom Sjel.

Each sound appears to be carefully considered. No one instrument dominates, as you might expect from a rock album where, thinking about it, the guitar is pretty much the driving sound. There is a conspicuous absence of guitars on many, but not all, of the tracks. The introduction to Never Able appears to allow guitar to take centre stage and even then it is the picture frame, not the picture. The Death Of Lennon uses acoustic guitar almost as a substitute for hi-hats to great effect whilst other guitars create a background soundscape as a backdrop to the song. Instruments seem to be chosen as deliberately as the casting director might choose the actors for a play. There’s that attention to detail again!

Oh and the piano and mellotron combination on the track Dirty Linen is beautiful, and sublime so I’d just consider getting the album for that track alone!

An accomplished album, an engaging listen, beautifully played, mixed, well written.

Debut? Amazing!

Left Side
01. The Same Ash (3:25)
02. Never Able (4:45)
03. The Long Shadow (4:25)
04. How Many Ants (4:28)
05. Jennifer (6:07)
06. Two Moods (2:28)

Right Side
01. Halvtom Sjel (4:44)
02. Dirty Linen (3:14)
03. Nightmare City Suite (8:07)
04. The Death Of Lennon (4:16)
05. Before We Go To War (4:54)

Total Time: 50:53

All songs written & performed by Anders Bjermeland.
Except ‘Jennifer’, written by Jean-Herve Paron & Gunter Wasthoff.
‘Halvtom Sjel’ & ‘Jennifer’ also feature Magnus Nygard Muldal (accordion) & Rhys Marsh (pedal steel guitar).

Label: Autumnsongs Records
Format: CD (mini-lp style double gatefold sleeve) & digital download
Catalogue#: UPC: 7 601377 005242 Cat. No.: AR022CD
Year Of Release: 2015
Distribution: Burning Shed (UK) | Just For Kicks (Germany) | Marquee Inc. (Japan) | Musea Records (France) | MVD Entertainment Group (North America & R.O.W.)
Social Media: Facebook
Album Info : Burning Shed