Imperfection is a funny state of being, especially when something is so close to being perfect. To wit: Swallowed a Star, the debut solo album from Daníel Ágúst. Ágúst, former frontman of Icelandic electronic band Gus Gus, has departed from his former band as far as keeping the music heavily electronic, but has used the knowledge from Gus Gus and applied it to the cello and violin orchestrations featured on Swallowed A Star. Ágúst uses techniques applied to most electronic music, using polyrhythms and layering new melodies onto the rhythms, then adding more, turning everything essentially into a rhythm, or a melody, one of them, some(most)times hard to tell. When applied to a different medium of instrumentation, it sounds just as great as any kind of electronic music. Ágúst’s voice is mellifluous, smooth and honeyed, singing as steady and seamless as any note from a violin. His voice complements the fluid and regular complexity brought to the music, supplements it even.
There are beautiful moments where the instruments remain unaccompanied by Ágúst’s voice that could last as long as a whole song and the listener would take no ill notice of it, and then his voice comes in, working in harmony like another stringed instrument. The lyrics never invade the music with too many sharp specifics, piercing through the sound with lyrical or not so lyrical lamenting, keeping vocals in their purest form as sound instead of transmission of messages. Sometimes though, the end results of this concoction of imprecise lyrics and melodious string orchestrations can be bizarre when compared to the rest of the album, especially when Ágúst sings about sexual love. When compared to the rest of the album, it seems like he must be making a joke with this R&B sounding excuse to get in a girl’s pants.
It is incredibly unfortunate that that one combination of ridiculous lyrics and grand composition (on the song “The Moss”) happened to end up being more silly than anything, because the rest of the album is admirable, contrasting the sometimes moribund classical instruments with hopeful talk of love, suggesting a sort of futility in the relationship. Yet, when something is imperfect, it’s not like it can only be a little imperfect. Most of the time it is just an attempt to shrink the imperfection like a doctor saying to an Olympic sprinter, “You’re a leg is a little fractured.” If a harmony is a just a little bit off, it is very noticeable, sometimes even more so if a little off rather than a lot, which is why it helps me to think that Ágúst meant the track “The Moss” to be a little silly. Still, when I listen to the album, that one track gets to me, that one scratch on a CD, or that one spot in the middle of a carpet.
Star is an accomplished album, just imperfect, like this appositive. It is rare that any record is really perfect anyway, but this one is just so insignifcantly imperfect that its insignificance is significant. Significance! But I don’t really know, this imperfection could be meant to be an ironic presentation of love that I just didn’t catch onto. Perhaps Ágúst wanted “The Moss” to sound like it does to point out how silly a sexual idea of romance can be at times, that if somebody’s main motivation for a relationship is the sex, that they can go to embarrassing lengths to get it, like masking the word “fuck” with translucent euphemisms. Given the quality of Ágúst’s work on the rest of the album, I wouldn’t put it past him, especially with his use of contrast between the confident lyrics and almost gloomy music that accompanies it on “Nobody Else.”
Múm – Yesterday Was Dramatic Today is Okay
Björk – Medulla
Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden