The music that Danish singer/songwriter Casper Clausen makes with Efterklang is at once intricate and elegant. It’s dreamy, delicate, otherworldly, but built from precise and interlocking parts. Yet over time it’s slowed down, opened up, allowed in more space and patient evolution where once a tasteful maximalism defined their approach. That pursuit of sonic openness, that gradual sense of comfort with music that takes its time and explores the stillness of spaces rather than aiming to fill them entirely, has only made them a better band in the long run. It’s also what’s made Clausen a remarkable solo artist in his own right.
Better Way, Clausen’s first proper solo album, feels as much like the work of one of the architects behind electronics-heavy post-rock outfit Efterklang as it does an art-rock artist with more stadium-sized ambitions. It’s the most accessible work to bear his credit as well as the biggest—the album’s already been compared to an idealized reimagining of late-period U2 and that’s neither wrong nor an unwarranted comparison. More accurately put, it’s an album of towering anthems that nod to the groundbreaking art-rock acts of the ’80s (like U2, for instance, and Peter Gabriel) but spoken in the language of contemporary electronic music and post-rock.
Better Way never feels as if it’s in any particular hurry to reach a climax or dramatic surge, but there’s a certain momentum that drives these songs nonetheless. The first full two and a half minutes of opening track “Used to Think” pulses and throbs with synths that nod to techno or Big Beat, threatening to transform into an Underworld track before finally settling on a gorgeously radio-friendly permutation of kosmische as Clausen sings what might very well be the album’s mission statement in its opening line: “Dreaming about a way/ To open up.”
More often than not, Clausen takes his time to reach the point where a fascinating texture is transformed into something bigger and more immediately satisfying. He’s comfortable letting the listener linger in the stillness for a while and get acclimated before dropping something more impactful into the atmosphere. On “Feel It Coming,” Clausen spends more than two minutes in sparse organ drone and backward vocal effects before a tidal wave of drums and bass crashes onto his soft ambient shores, which in essence makes the title, which Clausen repeats like a mantra, feel like a curious irony—it seems initially as if it might never change, which makes the transition all the more revelatory. And in the moments that never do quite boil over, like the slow, psychedelic shuffle of “Snow White,” the atmosphere is rich and dense enough on its own to get lost in, providing an experience that’s as satisfying in its own looped hypnosis as those that aim for something bigger and more bombastic.
That’s just it, though—any actual bombast on Better Way is both extremely subtle and used infrequently. For every driving, elevated-BPM exercise like the legitimately danceable, catchy and powerful “8 Bit Human,” there’s a gorgeously floating dirge like “Ocean Wave,” which is even more deeply affecting and musically breathtaking because it’s not concerned with achieving that radio-friendly moment, instead letting its abstract beauty continually wash over like the tide. In some sense, Better Way is caught between two different approaches—one of a songwriter with a well-honed pop sensibility and a grand vision, and one of an experimental musician for whom atmosphere and texture is every bit as important as melody. It’s incredible just how well they go together.
Label: City Slang
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.