I couldn’t quite understand the concept of Gregor Samsa’s Over Air. What I mean is, I get it, being a collection of previous songs recorded live at a Dutch radio station. What I didn’t understand was why. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the reasons for an organic, yet clean rehashing of old material. And in my questioning I found my own answer. The band’s last album, the illuminating and brilliant Rest, was composed over e-mail, put together while the band resided in different parts of the country. This recording finds the band all together, and it brings a dynamic and wonderfully natural sound to the band that perhaps can’t be found on a digital recording.
With the opening track, “Ain Leuh,” originally from Rest, the chemistry of the band is readily apparent, and nowhere more so than in the dual vocals of Champ Bennett and Nikki King. Together, they make one of music’s most elegant pairings along with Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. “Jeroen Van Aken,” a standout from that same previous record, is again a standout in this setting, sounding like Sigur Rós’ acoustic Heima recordings with that previously mentioned Once influence. King’s vocals take center stage in “Three” (from 27:36) and “Adolescent” (Rest), maintaining an air of world-weary experience in its almost Eisley-like innocent dreaminess. The last three minutes of “Abutting and Dismantling” illustrate the incredible focus and chemistry of this band, as they build and layer instrumentation while Bennett’s voice fades into the distance. I found myself almost unable to write, or do anything but listen as the hypnotic piano chords swept me away. Yet nowhere do Bennett and King’s voices intertwine as dramatically as they do on the spacious “Young and Old.” If I could pick a soundtrack to hear as my last fleeting glimpses of life flash before my eyes, “Young and Old” would be its centerpiece.
Other than the six Dutch radio tracks, we’re also treated to three bonus mixes and some video content. “Du Meine Leise” gets a fresh alternate mix, a bit more murky and atmospheric while “XXX” boasts a pared down Gregor Samsa band, while still retaining the gorgeous underwater feel the band plays so masterfully. Bobby Donne, of Labradford, remixes “We’ll Lean This Way Forever,” essentially helping create one of the most relaxing pieces of white noise music ever created. The real treat for fans, however, will be the amazing video content. Not only are we treated to the stunningly shot video for “Jeroen Van Aken,” but we are also given four live tracks shot in Paris, featuring the deserved third appearance of “Jeroen,” “Abutting, Dismantling,” “Young and Old” and “Rock Song,” originally available on the split CD with Red Sparrowes. The latter is truly special in a live setting, with an incredible Mogwai / Godspeed rock vibe and live looped vocals at the close.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t often get live albums. I often don’t see the need or use for them. But in Over Air, Gregor Samsa have taken an incredibly smart cue from Sigur Rós’ Heima, taking their songs out of the clean and polished studio setting and placing them in an organic setting. I have a nagging feeling that I’m going to feel an immense sense of joy and overwhelming emotion with every new Gregor Samsa release. After all, I have already.
Sigur Rós- Hvarf / Heim / Heima
Labradford- Mi Media Naranja
Mogwai- Young Team