Samme Stof Som Stof
he relative obscurity of Danish group Under Byen isn’t hard to understand. The group’s first two albums have only hinted at promises unmet. Despite the guiding hand of Stina Nordenstam producer Manne Von Ahn Öberg on Kyst, their debut suffered from a cleanliness, bordering on austerity. While Öberg’s production was impeccable, it didn’t suit the band exactly: there was too much empty space, the band too removed from the action. It wasn’t all bad, though, the group rightfully won the Danish equivalent of the Grammy for Best New Artist. Their second album, 2002’s Det er mig der holder træerne sammen cleared up the problem of production: electronic flourishes were once again employed, but this time paired up with up-front pianos and heavy live drums. But this time it was songwriting that pushed the group back from the words “assured album” into “growing pains.”
Samme Stof Som Stof takes those two complaints and annihilates them in its opening minute. “Pilot” opens with the sort of twinned guitar repetition that makes you wonder if it’ll ever stop. It’s not until forty seconds in that Henriette Sennenvaldt’s never-ending Bjork imitation makes its grand entrance and it’s not until nearly the two-minute mark that those guitars slip out of the chord that they’ve successfully battered into submission. Both moments are shocking, propelling the listener out of the discomfiting groove that has been established. It also serves notice that Samme is going to be an album unlike their previous work: muscular, weighty, and more evocative.
The eight-strong group doesn’t merely use guitars to flex: violin, cello, bass, marimba, and a variety of other instruments are all thrown into the mix, it even sounds like theremin and trombone make it onto the album’s eponymous track (the CD’s first single). That song, which chugs rather than rocks, pits Sennenvaldt’s voice against the aforementioned instruments and a flowing piano line that disappears during the song’s first breakdown, and returns for the waltzing coda. The song, easily the single here but hardly one “in the real world,” illustrates the group’s effortless songwriting, melting from verse to chorus in such a way that the divisions are hidden and the song’s direction preordained.
Amadeus homage “Siamesisk” is the closest the band gets back to the sort of electronic touches that turned up on Det er mig, sounding all the world like Portishead with a live string quartet at their side, while “Palads” smolders in the same way that a sober Tom Waits backing band might. But there are problems: “Film og omvendt” kills the album, a stultifying eleven-minute track that’s actually two tracks in one (apparently the first printing erroneously paired them). It makes more sense on the vinyl version of the album, wherein the track ends side two, preparing the listener for the wonder of “Siamesisk.” And the instrumental “Liste over sande venner og forbilleder” is needless industrialized tension-building with no release. Think a badly produced Dirty Three cover of “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box” and you’re close.
But these sidelights are forgivable. If anything they’re welcome, they remind us that this is the same band that put out Kyst and Det er mig, good but not great albums. Samme Stof Som Stof, on the other hand, is a great album: a culmination of their work so far and the best Danish album released thus far in 2006. For those of us unlucky enough to live in the United States, word is Samme will be released by an unnamed US label in the autumn. Consider this your warning shot.