Published on 21st April 2020
Stian Westerhus – Redundance
Sometimes, an album inspires me to write in a fashion that mirrors its artistic endeavour, and avant guitar wrangler Stian Westerhus’s last album, Amputation, was one such. Words such as “fraught”, “twitching”, “maelstrom” and “melancholic” abound, and that’s just the second paragraph. Amputation was a frightening thing, and the kind of artistic statement any true disciple, or even dilettante come to that, of musical art on the fringes should have in their collection, notwithstanding that it may not be a ‘go-to’ album.
That was in 2016, and now, four years later comes the next instalment in Stian’s psychodrama, the cheerily titled Redundance, wherein Stian has come to a détente with the demons summoned on Amputation. They’re still there, buzzing and cackling under the as-normal-as-it-gets opener Chase the New Morning, a contemplative musing on a new dawn, infested with a broiling but understated guitar solo that toys with convention, but ultimately the pram rejects it as Stian’s stentorian bellow reintroduces the melody. This is a creepy introduction, but for all that, a neurotic calm appears to have enveloped our hero. Let’s see where we go from here.
A fragile, almost spectral background informs the beginning of All Your Wolves, the tension barely restrained for the first two-and-a-half minutes of its initially precarious existence, before a loud electronic rhythm introduces the body of the song, which unfolds in a fashion that would go down well on a Lollapalooza tour. Where Amputation wore its love of Scott Walker’s deconstruction of the songform right there in dayglo on its inevitably black sleeve, Redundance has toned down the wilful obscurantism a tad. It’s still there, but the “odd” is more populist in nature. As a very recent convert to the oddball genius of Trent Reznor (ta, Phil L), I can hear some of that in here, but make no mistake, Stian Westerhus puts his very unique spin on it, as he did with aplomb on the Scottisms of Amputation.
Verona would fit well into the dance moves of Ulver’s current EDM from Hades fixation, which is hardly surprising as Stian and that band are closely connected. It seems the dark electronica on display through much of this album reflects Ulver’s already darkwave pop back at them in an even blacker mirror. Just listen to the groove on There’s A Light. Now, there’s a direction I never expected Ulver and even more so, Stian Westerhus to explore! I would be amazed if Steven Wilson has not been influenced by Norway’s finest, as the similarity of influences is inescapable. Ulver and Stian are darker, much darker, of course. No doubt Steven Wilson fans will be claiming he’s reinvented the wheel with his new direction, but, say it ain’t so, Joe! Or as Neil Tennant would say “What’ve I, what’ve I, what’ve I done to deserve it?”
There’s A Light represents a roundabout in the middle of the album, and with Walk the Line (no, not that one), our troubadour hangs a left and goes all introspective singer-songwriter on us. This song shows what an expressive voice Stian possesses, but before we get too complacent, the tune is bludgeoned by howling guitar, while an unclean church organ thunders away as the building collapses all around. Nice!
Unusually, I seem to have fallen into the dreaded “track-by-track” rabbit hole! Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pestilence, as my gran never said. The succinct Hold On charges along with a glam beat and a guitar-as-cloud-of-buzzing-flies, and may get your frazzled mind shaking its neurons as the world collapses. Damn… I have to break the track-by-track habit, it goes against all my better instincts, so I will not tell you a thing about the closing title track. It’s all there on Bandcamp, anyway.
With Redundance, Stian Westerhus has assembled order out the barely controlled chaos of Amputation and produced a fine and varied album of alt-rock music on the fringes that is always looking to explore new avenues. As such, it fits the dictionary’s and my description of “Progressive” like a snugly fitting face mask. Give it a listen, you may be surprised. After all, it’s not like there’s anything else to do.
01. Chase The New Morning (8:12)
02. All Your Wolves (8:49)
03. Verona (4:50)
04. There’s A Light (7:31)
05. Walk The Line (4:02)
06. Hold On (2:53)
07. Redundance (6:39)
Total Time – 43:00
Stian Westerhus – Miscellaneous Electric Guitars, Various Effects, Ibanez Acoustic Guitar, Mellotron, Moog Voyager, Church Organ (Steinkjer Kirke), Drum Samples
Record Label: House of Mythology
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 5th March 2020