Long-time long-distance collaborators prove again that being anti-social isn’t a bad thing
To describe the duo of soundtrack composer/jazzer Rupert Lally and documentary film-maker/circuit-bent instrument fan Espen J Jörgensen as electronic music’s Odd Couple is perhaps an understatement. Theirs is a partnership that has produced a slew of albums, each of them markedly and stylistically different from the other, underlined by the fact that the British-born, Switzerland-residing Lally and the Norwegian Jörgensen have never actually met.
Those familiar with this pairing are likely to find ‘Paradise Once’ a significant departure. Gone are the playful ambient moments. Gone are the imagined soundtrack cues. Gone also is the notion of the listeners acting as voyeuristic observers while Lally and Jörgensen figure out exactly how to work with one another.
Most surprisingly, this is a vocal album. Not a pop album, at least not pop by today’s rigid measure, but a record whose structures make it a more accessible affair than others in their back catalogue. Jörgensen, whose voice peppers this set, sometimes sounds like he is talking in the same detached manner as the narrator of a Bret Easton Ellis novel, unsure as to whether what he is witnessing and commenting on is the true reality or not. Elsewhere, his expression swings with a looseness that’s neatly matched to Lally’s roots as a grafting jazz musician.
Then there’s the music. From the off, with the emotive strings and sound world of ‘She Lies’, ‘Paradise Once’ is a many-layered, complex affair. Melodies percolate and circle around the stereo field with subtle insouciance, while rhythms that skitter around on glitchy broken circuit paths offset any impression of beauty. The stand-out, ‘Broken Fingers’, is one of the fullest pieces here, finding the duo developing a jazz rhythm beneath synths, distorted guitars and a vocal that sounds heavy with sadness. They do the same on the mysterious ‘Spider’, which carries a strange sexuality about it, with Jörgensen coming across like a saucy easy listening cabaret singer.
‘Noise For Nothing’, though, is the track that pierces a hole in any notion that this is the pair’s pop swansong. “We don’t need another song about nothing,” declares Jörgensen at the start, as preposterously big guitar riffs – we’re talking ZZ Top here – manoeuvre gleefully into view. Like a lot of things about this duo, especially when set against the fragile beauty of many of the other tracks here, including the plinky-plonk synths and fractured noises of ‘Folds’ that immediately follows, it really shouldn’t work. But then again, when you’ve never met, perhaps you can make music as idiosyncratic and unselfconscious as you want.
Despite both Lally and Jörgensen hinting that their creative enterprise had run its course, ‘Paradise Once’ is a bold, refreshing album from two artists using the supposedly cold and not-to-be-trusted nature of the internet to their absolute advantage. Because of that, we need to hope that they never feel compelled to meet.