Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Christian Kjellvander, Wild Hxmans, 2018

Album Review

By Henry Lipput

The word "epic" isn't used much to describe what passes for indie music, and I don't think I've ever used it in a review. But there are songs and instrumental passages in Christian Kjellvander's new album, Wild Hxmans, that use elements of folk, blues, Americana, and free-jazz to create what I can only describe as epic. There are seven tracks on the album, and Kjellvander and his musicians take the opportunity to stretch out on songs that, in some cases, are close to ten minutes in length.

The first track is the chilling, "Strangers In Northeim," which begins with a wash of synths. In the background, there's a clattering noise being made by someone or something; and, more than two minutes into the song, the first words we hear are the ominous instructions, "Take only / Exactly what you need." Eventually, we get some free-jazz drumming and Kjellvander remembers a woman who's no longer there for him; and you can hear the pain of it in his voice: "And now I only look for your eyes / In front of our door."

Based in Sweden, Kjellvander is a world traveler; and some of his recent journeys have inspired the songs on the album. The sad and hopeful "Curtain Maker" is the result of his meeting with a woman from war-torn Syria who now makes curtains in Verona, Italy. The song is grounded by a sparse arrangement featuring some terrific lead guitar work and a snare drum playing an almost military beat. "So I took a job / Curtain making," he sings. "And I taught my hands / To always / Let sunlight stream in / To always let sunlight come in."

I try not to repeat myself (although I did mention Leonard Cohen's song in my review of Kjellvander's 2016 album A Village: Natural Light), but there are lines in "Curtain Maker" that, in addition to Kjellvander's deep and gravelly Cohen-like voice, made me think of "Anthem" and the lines "There's a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in."

"The Thing Is" is the first song on the album that presents us with truly epic sounds. The middle section features wailing, distorted electric guitar and pounding drums. It's a fantastic piece of music that also works to alleviate the bad vibes that have been building up throughout the song. The lyrics describe, among other things, an environmental disaster: "The thing is some shed their toxic down here / Like the trees I reach for good air."

The whistling that begins "Halle Lay Lu Jah" could have fit right into a John Ford western. The song builds to a fast and furious instrumental section. The repeated refrain of "the smile that keeps me alive" in "Love Xomes" is heard during a big-screen burst of sound.

"Faux Guernica" is based on a road trip through Spain's Basque country that Kjellvander took with his youngest son. He sings of climbing to mountain tops and listening to the sounds in the places where the Spanish Civil War was fought and which inspired Picasso's legendary, epic, wall-sized painting of a Fascist bombing.

Wild Hxmans is out now on Tapete Records.

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