Marking the group’s return seven years after their last studio release – a period of transition, of high adventures and creative questing – Efterklang’s fifth album Altid Sammen is their finest yet. Bold and ambitious, yet engaging on a primal and emotional level, the album is steeped in the experimentation that has been their trademark since their debut album, 2004’s Tripper, but is more elemental than they’ve yet dared to be.
The music of Altid Sammen (the title means “Always Together”) is deep and sonorous. Their trademark tapestry of acoustic and electronic elements, woven together so expertly one hardly notices how each strengthens the other, has never sounded more accomplished. Sounds from the baroque and digital eras strike perfect harmonies together, bound together by Casper Clausen’s warm, weathered and wise vocals.
Their acclaimed last collection of songs, Piramida saw them chart a course from a ghost town in the Arctic to the Sydney Opera House – producing an album, a movie, a live album and a series of unforgettable shows across the world. Similarly, Altid Sammen is the product of a long, fruitful journey that the members of Efterklang – Casper Clausen (vocals), Mads Brauer (synths, electronics) and Rasmus Stolberg (bass) – didn’t even realise they’d undertaken until it was too late to turn back. It was a journey that began, somehow, with an ending…
Touring for the album wound down early in 2014, with a special performance in Sønderborg, the southern Denmark town where the members grew up. It wasn’t just a homecoming for Efterklang: revisiting their back pages in the company of a choir, the South Denmark Philharmonic and former band-members and past collaborators, the show – which they titled The Last Concert – marked the closing of a chapter.
“We needed a break from the album and touring routine, and we needed a break from Efterklang,” says Clausen. “We had the urge to create a sort of ritual for ourselves, everybody we had been working with over a span of 10 years, all the fans we met along our way, and our family back on our home island. To close a chapter and a begin a new one, to clear the table and challenge our friendship. After the show, things felt very exciting – and a bit scary too. We could think freely, and move in new directions again, just focusing on the things that excited the 3 of us.”
Efterklang had always been “all-consuming, because of our ambition,” says Stolberg. Now, however, there was space for collaborations and projects outside of the group’s confines.
The perhaps-bravest of these steps into the unknown saw Casper, Mads and Rasmus co-write and perform an opera as part of the Copenhagen Opera Festival, joined by friend and composer Karsten Fundal. Audiences explored an underground nuclear bunker beneath an old hospital, while different pieces of music played in each room, performed by the band, classical musicians and four opera singers, alongside Clausen. Entitled LEAVES: The Colour Of Falling, Clausen says the piece marked, “another path that would bleed into everything else we did”
Meanwhile, in July 2014 they reunited with Efterklang’s touring drummer Tatu Rönkkö as a new group, Liima, which Clausen describes as “a new band from scratch, four members instead of three. Liima reopened our eyes to playing as a ‘band’, to jamming songs.” “Efterklang’s music had become quite a process by that point,” adds Stolberg. Liima, by contrast, “was, ‘Let’s just jam and come up with a song a day.’ It was a reminder that music could be simple.” Liima’s icy, grand, electronic pop was wonderful in that simplicity, cutting two albums – 2016’s ii and 2017’s 1982 – before Tatu returned to solo projects and the performing arts, leaving the door open for future new music.
The trio’s next project marked another abrupt left-turn – albeit one that eventually led them back to Efterklang and, ultimately, Altid Sammen. Approached by B.O.X – a Belgian ensemble founded by lute player Pieter Theuns, performing new music with baroque orchestration – Casper, Mads and Rasmus composed material for a joint performance at Theuns’ own mixMass festival in Antwerp in January 2018. But the music they began writing for this performance soon took on a life of its own. The performance left Efterklang fired-up to commit this work to tape. “We walked offstage feeling super-elevated,” says Stolberg. “‘Let’s get into a studio and document this.’”
Their initial plan was to record the album solely in collaboration with the B.O.X ensemble. But later that summer the trio appeared at Berlin’s PEOPLE festival, a 7-day experience where musicians from around the world (including Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, Beirut’s Zach Condon, Justin Vernon, Feist and the Dessner brothers, along with 150 more artists) collaborate and perform in various new ensembles. As well as performing with various friends new and old, the trio also played together as Efterklang, revisiting the new songs, but this time with other musicians onstage. “And we realised then, these songs deserved our full attention – the scope of possibilities was inspiring,” says Stolberg. “It was time to make a new Efterklang album.”
Recording for this new album began in Autumn of 2018, following what Brauer describes as “a gut feeling of what’s interesting, and what works”. Sessions occurred in short bursts at studios across Europe – recording with B.O.X in Brussels’ legendary Jet Studio, laying down piano parts in Iceland’s Sundlaugin studio with Kjartan Sveinsson and the local choir Kliður, and working with local musicians and fellow PEOPLE festival veterans Joel Wästberg (Sir Was), Indrė Jurgelevičiūtė and Bert Cools (Merope) at a string of studios in Copenhagen. This indulgent approach, says Clausen, follows in the steps of heroes like My Bloody Valentine, Spiritualised and Talk Talk. The group then took these recordings back to their space in Copenhagen (where they also broadcast their freeform radio station, The Lake), where they honed and reworked the tracks.
Many of the songs had been written with space to accommodate the contributions of the baroque musicians. They’ve evolved considerably since those early days, though the contributions of the B.O.X ensemble can still be heard across the album, adding their colours to the grander picture, but not dominating its tone. Altid Sammen’s less-is-more aesthetic lends itself to improvisational input from their various collaborators, which the group later edited and manipulated, cherry-picking the finest moments and reshaping them into something new.
It’s not the only break from Efterklang tradition. Altid Sammen also finds Clausen singing in Danish for the first time. “It’s a completely new way of expression for me,” he says, “though it simultaneously feels like coming home, because it’s my mother tongue. I was first inspired to try it when we performed with the B.O.X ensemble in Antwerp. I heard all these people speaking Flemish, which is a very similar language to Danish. To communicate with the ensemble as directly as possible, I thought, why sing in English? I love so much music that’s sung in languages I don’t understand a word of. All these different sounds, how they shape our mouths, lips and gestures...”
Such an approach suits Clausen’s most personal suite of lyrics so far. “Altid Sammen’s songs are about belief and togetherness,” he says. “Not in a religious way – none of us are believers of a defined religion. The words are searching for meaning in intimate relationships, in nature, in death and eternity. The bonds we create; to gather, hold hands, sing or share a moment together. We’re all connected, across nations, age, sex and gender. We come together with all of our backgrounds, and we move apart in all sorts of directions, always together.”
The end result of all these journeys, all these experiments, is the best music of Efterklang’s career. It’s not a “reunion” album, because the members’ union was never sundered, no matter what The Last Concert might have suggested. But Altid Sammen is the work of a different band, of different men, than Piramida.
“Over these five years, we have realised that we look at Efterklang differently now, with eyes that are refreshed,” says Stolberg. “This feels like a start over. And it also feels like we have a new energy together, that we have all changed as individuals.”