Released on 14 October 2016 via Kning Disk
Albert af Ekenstam is a man filled with melancholy. You can hear it in his voice; a soft and haunting croon that rings of sadness and whispers stories straight into your heart. You can hear it in his guitar; a gentle plucking of strings that dance so delicately you can barely believe the air around them stirs from their movement. And you can hear it in his lyrics; words of poetry that paint a picture of emotion that wouldn’t be amiss on a Scrubs soundtrack.
Inspired by artists such as Bon Iver and Mogwai and often compared with the late and great Eliot Smith, Albert af Ekenstam’s debut Ashes is the kind of record that captures you from the first and doesn’t let go until its rocked you comfortingly to sleep.
No doubt inspired by Mogwai, the record’s instrumental opener, 1996, is testament to how stripped back Ekenstam’s music can become. Opening on the plucking of a guitar, it follows a simple and repetitive chord progression, yet somehow manages to pour with emotion from 0:00 to 3:21. Throughout, layers of instrumental build in the background, but like salt to a meal they don’t add to the guitar but heighten it, making it more poignant and heartfelt.
Ashes breaks the silence, introducing us to Ekenstam’s somber and hollow voice. It’s a sad song with a troubled undertone that begs for relief. What follows is Angel Liz; a farewell letter to a loved one who has left this world leaving the artist to struggle desperately to comprehend the world without them. The song meets its peak at an instrumental bridge where fuzzy guitars lay ground for a stark and desperate piano that fades away, lost in the noise.
Devil Bird reads like the next chapter in Ekenstam’s life and is the one where he learns to fend on his own. “The Devil Bird is about the devil bird on your shoulder that always tells you to do the wrong thing”, he explains. “So you have to work against it and dare to choose the right – it’s about choosing the way you want to live your life and not living up to the standards built up by others. It’s when you’re at rock bottom and you have to choose whether to go up or down”.
Like so many of Ekenstam’s songs there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to find it. Made of Gold is one such song. It’s weighed down and heavy by nature but listen in and you’ll hear that it’s a comforting reminder that you and you alone have the power to free yourself from the prison of your mindset.
Just past the halfway mark and there’s a glow on the horizon with Walking. Accompanied by Sumie Nagano on vocals, it’s another reminder to keep moving forward in the face of adversity and is one of the most easily digestible tracks on the record for the lightness her voice lends to it.
2006 is riddled with electric guitar chords that dance with a coy joy. Similar to 1996, the track is built around layers of instrumental that work to heighten the silent lyrics and content smile hidden behind the scenes. It’s also one of the most brilliantly delivered tracks on the record.
As with all good stories, the record leaves on a positive note with final track, The Avenue. From the lilting guitar strings that dance in Ekenstam’s hands to the inclusiveness in his lyrics as he sings, “I’m already here by you, let’s leave this avenue”, the journey for him (and for us) is just about over. But it’s also just begun.
Artist: Albert af Ekenstam
Label: Kning Disk
Albert af Ekenstam's debut is a poignant and melancholic journey of loss, struggles and hope built on heartfelt lyrics, a delicately plucked guitar and a haunting voice.