1982 by LiimaRelease date: November 3, 2017
Label: City Slang
Arriving hard on the heels of Stranger Things 2 and Blade Runner 2049, dressed in a cover more suited to a low budget VHS sci-fi dystopia – the title ‘1982’ hovering in lurid red text before a dark and anonymous cityscape – it’d be easy to mistake Liima‘s second album for a synth drenched set of Carpenter worshipping jams in the now well established style of Zombi, Umberto or French duo Zombie Zombie. And to be clear, I’d be just fine with that because I love that stuff but, as we’re hopefully all aware, appearances can be deceptive.
If I might just push my luck a little bit on the ‘Artists called Zombie’ thing – it turns out to have more in common with former 4AD label mate Zomby’s introspective post dubstep soundscapes. So, while it’s clear what Liima have done here is make a synth pop record it’s not one particularly concerned with retro futurism, gear fetishism or nostalgia. It’s more like establishing 1982 as a kind of year zero. Literally for vocalist Casper Clausen as the year of his birth (the rest of the band born just either side)1982 was also the year Time magazine made the personal computer ‘Person Of The Year’. This, of all potential musical, cultural and political references, is the detail they’ve decided to tease out as pertinent, which sort of tips us back toward the sci-fi dystopia. Or not, I guess it’s a matter of perspective but check the video for the title track.
It kicks in with a drum beat like a firm rap on a door and swooning synth straight into the lyric “revelation, like the pavement hitting your face…” ominous clouds gather, Clausen ponders himself and his place in the world “I’ve been running from the shadows, here I am, I’m a different man, I’ve been staring at the sun now, here I am, I’m a different man” it washes out on a wave of increasingly distorted synth and feedback into the gorgeous, looping, minimalist figures that start ‘David Copperfield’. The track is split into two distinct halves, the first being this Philip Glass-like instrumental slowly, subtly, adding more and more to the mix, spiralling gracefully upwards you feel it build towards some kind of bombastic gear shift but the power gives out, it fades quickly to twinkling bells and only then does the second part come crashing in. Which is a shame, it could easily have been two or three times as long before starting to try your patience. It seems almost certain that in the sessions it was and could still blossom again into a remarkable section of the live show.
This sense of concision fills the record, a dense but subtle collage that teems with detail and ideas that come through on repeated listens. Found sounds, whether actual field recordings, or manipulated or faked versions shine in quieter moments and link the tracks together. This is a laudable approach although it’s sometimes hard to see what end it serves, emotional ballad ‘Kirby’s Dream Land’ apparently samples the urinals from the hotel it was written in. It’s a cute fact that has you bend your ear to the trickling water sounds amid the synth washes but I’m not sure that knowledge enhances your enjoyment of the song any. I’m happier with the smudgy birdsong and rain sounds that I can’t quite be sure of.
Liima is a side project of Efterklang, the three core members and their relatively recent touring drummer Tatu Rönkkö. The reduced personnel and instrumentation coupled with a shared fondness for dodgy moustaches suggest Grinderman’s relationship to the Bad Seeds. A chance to set aside the weight of expectation and accumulated clutter of an established project and do something a bit simpler, more direct. When you consider that Efterklang’s one release since forming Liima is a commissioned opera, it seems almost an obvious move. Musically they could not be more different of course Grinderman’s raw, primal punk-blues also draws on a very American blues tradition that seems to have no place at all in Liima’s quite European music (for Cave’s part, in 1982 The Birthday Party released ‘Junkyard’).
Still, sticking with early 80’s proto goths for now, apparently ‘People Like You’ was born of the band jamming along to Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ hence the nod/lift of the first line “People like you, find it easy”. Another song of two halves the skittering beats and falsetto of the first part give way to a keening vocal section before thumping drums and ghostly cascading synth strings that recall The Cure present the most exhilaratingly upbeat moment on the album. Let’s not get carried away here though, ‘1982‘ is an inward looking album but there’s little of the despair and darkness we generally associate with Ian Curtis, Nick Cave or Robert Smith. Efterklang already labour away beneath endless Talk Talk comparisons so I feel a bit guilty bringing them up here but at various points it becomes unavoidable. If we consider that band’s trajectory from shiny Duran-lite popsters to moody autumnal art rockers ‘1982’ would be some lost album or alternate history between ‘It’s My Life’ and ‘Colour Of Spring’, keeping the synth sounds for the move to improvisation and the more reflective mood.
Take ‘Life Is Dangerous’ which opens with a lovely understated piano line and swoons through a moment of existential reflection as the low sun flickers through the trees on a Sunday drive in the country. Or perhaps a drive through the long frozen night of the Norwegian north. Rather brilliantly, if confusingly, the band worked up the album during a winter tour of village schools in Norway, they would turn up and play at 9am to a hall of teenagers, Monday to Friday. It’s not immediately clear what, if any, effect this has had on the music but attempting to keep the attention of sleepy malcontents might account for the lack of indulgence. Nothing is allowed to run on or outstay its welcome, the wilder, more experimental shores suggested by some of the sonic ideas are reined in to something still recognisably a pop song format.
‘2- Hearted’ is one of those more pop moments and you would have thought a strong candidate for another song split into two parts but the sparkling synths bubble throughout. This time the change comes in the vocal which starts out twisted up by vocoder or autotune resolving to unadorned in the later half. The processing and distortion of Clausen’s voice to various degrees is all over the album suggesting duality or even multiple voices but it’s still unclear what he’s 2 hearted about. Everything possibly. It’s when the song slows, steadily winding down at the end that I first catch just how sedately paced the record is as a whole. There’s a lot going on to keep your attention, but very little to get you tapping your feet. If, in essence, Liima came into being so the other three could be in a band with Tatu Rönkkö because they liked his drumming then he more than lives up to that acclaim here. The rhythms are always shifting and changing in surprising ways and, typically of the record as a whole, never grandstanding or flashy.
‘Jonathan, I Can’t Tell You’ is possibly the most Talk Talk-y track on the record, Clausen’s voice free of effects, high in the mix but low and soft, like he’s sat next to you singing his reservations in your ear “I didn’t train for this world”. There’s a nice whistling/bird song sample and the most arrestingly unique final line I’ve heard for a while. Certainly makes you wonder about it being performed at or inspired by those school gigs. A happy finish as it were. This is more than can be said for the curiously vacant finale ‘My Mind Is Yours’ which is neither triumphant or despondent but simply there, casting about in a somewhat confused fashion. Appropriately enough.