Back in the late ’80s, an advertising campaign took the sporting world by storm, with SuperBowl MVP’s declaring that `what they were going to do next’ was `go to Disneyland!’ (Or, of course, if you were residing on the east coast it was Disneyworld). From that point on, every time someone did something spectacular, that seemed to be the following catchphrase. I don’t know, man. I grew up in SoCal and I’ve been to the place dozens of times. The place used to be cool. But, the last halfway decent ride made for adults, and I do mean `halfway,’ was the Indiana Jones ride. Everything since then has been geared toward the tykes. I know that’s what Disney’s always been about, no need to remind me, but remember when there was a string of great coaster rides coming out, topped off by the practically stationary, yet rocking cubicle known as Star Tours? And that was after the greatness of Big Thunder Mountain! Since those days, nothing but California Adventure, which at first I thought was just driving I-5 to get there! Anyway, adults can skip the whole Disney thing now, pass `Go’ and head directly to Slaraffenland, instead. Slaraffenland is Danish for `the land of milk and honey,’ and it’s also Danish for one of the best album releases of the year!
Want to know how good Slaraffenland is? Their latest album, Private Cinema, is now number three on my list of favorite albums of the year, only surpassed by Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem (who are amazingly enough touring together in the fall, but I digress). Back when reviewing the 2005 self-titled album from Broken Social Scene, my esteemed brother called it a `pretty mess.’ That same descriptive phrase popped into my brain when listening to Private Cinema. You see, this Danish band, five members with unpronounceable (at least to me) names in tow, mixes post-rock with alterna-pop, epic soundscapes with freak-folk tendencies. It’s not `a little bit country and a little bit rock n’ roll,’ but it is a little bit schizophrenic and a lot enjoyable.
For a little taste of the delightful multiple-personality disorder that is Slaraffenland, just listen to the first track, “Sleep Tight.” The methodically pounding and chanting opening, like Jesu meets Godspeed! You Black Emperor, gives way a third of the way through to personality B, that being discordant noodling and shimmering background noises a la Animal Collective, which then gives way to personality C, which is a more Arcade Fire meets BSS epic song-ending multi-instrumental race to the finish line. I kept expecting Win and Regine to incite everyone into a bunch of `Oh-oh-oh-oh’s.’ “Show Me the Way” adds discordant horns that are somehow as charming as those in Sufjan Stevens’ backup band. That song is the last time we will hear something resembling a conventional song on Private Cinema, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. “Polaroids” goes through over two minutes of hypnotizing before finally breaking into something altogether more enticing. “This One Will Kill Us” makes us wonder what would have happened had Thurston Moore joined Joy Division.
“The Run Up” and “Roed” take us back to the band’s instrumental roots, and demonstrate why they are going to be the `next big thing’ in post-rock. I have a friend who is really into Mogwai. I mean really into them. Mogwai opened doors for him to Godspeed, Explosions in the Sky, Do Make Say Think and a host of other like-minded bands. When I first heard this album, I knew that it would act as a bridge for him, from post-rock to the rest of his favorite bands including Arcade Fire and New Order. The best example of this combination is “Watch Out,” an anthemic track that defies classification. Instruments layer onto each other slowly, building into a `pretty mess’ that eventually becomes transcendent, a cacophony of beautiful noise that you never want to end. Maybe that’s why it purposefully ends so abruptly.
The songs most will be talking about round out the album, including the very Animal Collective-like “You Win.” The song is almost entirely percussion driven, with ghostly and ethereal vocals and pastoral horns, guitars and harp-like sounds at the song’s close. “How Far Would You Go,” the album’s closing track, soars like the best Sigur Rós dreamscapes, lovely, mystical and transporting. On Private Cinema, a perfect title for this highly evocative soundtrack for a film never made, Slaraffenland prove that they can do pretty much everything, from combining pop riffs with avant-garde noise to delving deep into one’s soul to find what kind of sound can penetrate its inner reaches. After listening to it, I feel like I’ve accomplished something, and because of that, I’m going to Slaraffenland! Again.