Album Review: Windborne by Kanaan/ Instrumentality by Jakob Skøtt

The Danish label, El Paraiso, is one of my favourites. They put out consistently excellent albums from ‘house band’ Causa Sui and those who make up that great collective (the label is run by members of the band), together with a good smattering of other acts some of whom (Mythic Sunship for instance, their recent ‘Another Shape of Psychedelic Music’ being one of my albums of the year this year) have now put out a whole string of excellent sets on the label. Added to this is the constant drip of new people to the roster, most notably Futuropaco this year for me and you get a real and consistent stream of great music. Add to this a wonderfully distinctive visual style and you get a label that really ticks all the boxes.

The label has now announced what I assume are the last two releases of 2018 by Causa Sui drummer Jakob Skøtt and Norwegian band Kanaan. Together these tell you a lot about what this label is, with both leaving a considerable mark on my ears.

Windborne by Kanaan

Kanaan are a new band for me, but I have you say that it is easy to see how they fit so well into the El Paraiso roster with their mix of powerful guitar music coupled with elements of jazz, stoner, prog and, well, freedom. If there’s anything that personifies the label for me it’s that last term. Now I’ve said it I am struggling to find a single album that it has put out that is not marked all the way through with a playing style that is both free and open.

This is obviously the case from the opening few bars of ‘A. Hausenbecken’ with it’s easy style and soporific melody. It’s a track that draws you in straight away and, to me, confirms that this is going to be another El Paraiso killer from the outset (I already have my pre-order in). Then, true to the ‘house style’ it starts going off piste after a couple of minutes as the more experimental and innovative elements take charge and send the track off in a different direction. This, I sense, is going to be a great ride.

‘Roll Beyond’ is immediately more ambient, more laid back, before getting up to speed for the rest of its ten minute stint. There’s lots of stoner guitar here, with a Floyd bassline that really powers the track along… but every so often I imagine Gary Moore popping up to deliver the sort of riff that he made his name with in Thin Lizzy.

All change again for ‘Harmonia’ which, as you may expect, has something of a motorik beat to it… but really its more than that with a wonderfully melodic riff lying just on top of it, closing off what is a really interesting first side of music which is well up to any El Paraiso standard you want to set it against.

After this Side Two feels much different… heavier and more intense. ‘Act Upon The Mundane World’ has a crisp riff that feels both clean and fresh before dropping off into a chilled out mid-section, then powering back in a frenzy of wild guitar that has you head banging your neck muscles away…

‘The Groke’ has a lovely blues feel to it… Sabbath never being very far away from this track as it crashes into something inevitably more heavy; while the title track finishes off the album with something more considered. This marks a return to the slower and meditative approach of Side One… although those stoner riffs are never far away.

You would expect nothing less from El Paraiso, but Kanaan are most definitely a band to watch. This album shows them up to be far more than just a power trio; there is subtlety and guile here as well as a eclectic approach which shows promise for the future.

Instrumentality by Jakob Skøtt

This is Jakob Scøtt’s third solo album for El Paraiso. As Causa Sui’s drummer and the visual driving force behind the label, something that for me is key to the label’s vision and success, his creative talents are incontestable. However, while his previous works have been nothing short of great… the release of ‘Instrumentality’ has an additional frisson when you read the release details and understand the circumstances behind the recording of this album:

The album was recorded a few months after Jakob experienced a brief, yet painful spontaneous leak of brain fluid. Instrumentality draws on that corpal experience in it’s titles and artwork, as well as works it’s musical muse. It’s music that constantly dives inwards – ever repetitive, yet constantly moving. From micro movements in Skøtt’s poly-rhythms, to the 5 song cycles diving to the depths of the splintered nerves reconnecting with their natural flow.

This, I feel, gives the work a whole additional level of meaning which can certainly be read into it when you listen. The opener, ‘The Dura Plane’, gets the album of to a strong start with its slightly off-kilter repeato-rhythms. As you would expect the drums are high in the mix and getting a proper pounding before Skøtt leads us off into a dreamlike mid-section which feels detached and disorientated before hitting the beat again to take it home.

After that ‘2nd Foundation’ is a complex jazz/ beats number which sees an eclectic of styles competing with each other creating a musical tableau that feels like it’s overloading the senses… it almost feels too much. Gradually the track drops back a level, but never loses that sense of confusion and fragmentation with Skøtt drums in particular never settling into anything you would say was a consistent rhythm. The overall result, especially given the context in which it is being performed, is a track that is both forceful and moving… especially when the power gets turned up towards the end.

The breathing at the start of ‘Altered State’, although brief, appears erratic and tells you pretty much all you need to know about where this moment is. Then as the dark and sombre beats come in you are left in no doubt that this is a track borne out of disorientation and fear. There is a sort of petrification to this number for me in the way that the booms of sound hit you and eventually break apart into a clear mental confusion… you cannot really imagine Skøtt’s experiences but he certainly sonically describes them very well.

‘Purple Visage’ continues with this sense of disorientation, and yet here you also begin to perhaps detect moments of clarity, but also moments of disintegration through spirals of music that are almost space like. Here there are elements which feel positive too, as if somehow the drugs have taken over and hallucinations provide a respite.

The final track ‘Tapping The Source With The Lords of Instrumentality’ is by far the longest one at nearly fifteen minutes. While there is the same sort of confused coda at the beginning it feels like we are being taken very quickly to a different place. There is much more of a sense of forward motion here as we settle into the tempo. This is one of those longer numbers that really keeps its basic theme throughout, with variations swirling around it. At times this string comes very close to breaking point and you’re left wondering whether it will snap sending the whole piece into a series of sonic shards… but it is just about kept together and finishes like much of this record with you imagining the synapses of Skøtt’s brain being changed, disconnected and reconnected.

This is one of those albums where I feel you really benefit from knowing the circumstances in which it has been written and recorded. With that knowledge this transforms the set for me from one that is really very good to one that you can really get inside and, while not experience what Skøtt went through, but certainly go some way to imagining it. In that sense he puts forward what he went through very well… the inner working of the brain are mysterious at the best of times, but this was something else and ‘Instrumentality’ puts you front and centre of that. It also helps, though, that this is also a superbly played set which is musically well worth listening to in its own right.

Both albums are released by El Paraiso.



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