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Album Review/Interview: Simian Ghost – ‘Lovelorn’

The term “chillwave” has been thrown around relentlessly since it was unleashed onto the music world, with innumerable acts placed into this genre, whilst countless websites and music magazines have written features dedicated to solely defining what exactly chillwave “is”. But I’m not going to dwell on the definitions of this genre or try to justify whether or not it can actually be considered a genre; I will, however, point out that if I were to be cool enough and up-to-date with all these newfound definitions, I would say that Simian Ghost slot into this genre rather nicely.

The project itself is the brainchild of Aerial’s Sebastian Arnström, who I caught up with to discuss their eagerly anticipated seven song mini-album. Simian Ghost, Sebastian poetically describes, is a metaphor for what he has “become as an artist in the enormous flow of information in which we live and act today; it’s like a description of what we’re all turning into in our interactions with others”. Sebastian himself is something of a musical machine, but what if he couldn’t be involved in music? “That question is hard to answer, because I really don’t do anything else, nor do I see myself doing something else in the future. When I grew up I was very into politics and philosophy. And when I was about seven or eight I wanted to be a marine biologist. But I’m too messed up to be in politics and too much against the authority of institutions to make a career in philosophy. And I wouldn’t do much good as a marine biologist either, because I’m scared shitless of deep water.”

The group’s debut album, “Infinite Traffic Everywhere”, was released only in Sweden in the winter of 2010. Since then, Simian Ghost have continued to capture the hearts of music-lovers globally with their effortless, cool sequencing of diverse synths and suave vocals. More significantly, the increasingly influential Heist Or Hit Records offered the opportunity for a UK release which, if you ask me, seems as good an opportunity as any. Thus began the making “Lovelorn”. “Lovelorn” differs from their debut in that “ITE” was more of an ode to the music Sebastian grew up with. The latter features more live instrumentation, as he explains: “A lot of the drums are loops from dumsessions I recorded a long time ago for another project. “ITE” was very much a collage of old and new loops, samples and ideas; “Lovelorn” is very new and based more on electronics.” Thematically, both albums are quite diverse, with Sebastian describing “Lovelorn” as “more down to earth”. Given the name of the album itself, one might expect a lot of love songs, but this would be a far too simplistic assumption. “It’s an album with songs largely affected by feelings of loneliness and lost love, but there’s only one real love song on it,” Sebastian explains. “‘As You See Fit’ to me is a pretty straight forward song about love, the first one I’ve ever written I think. But then again, it’s all down to interpretation – my ideas of what these songs are about are just as subjective as any.” When questioned on what we ought to feel when listening to “Lovelorn”, he brought to light his refusal to buy into the idea that each song has only “one message, or mood, or whatever, which you can either ‘get’ or ‘not get’”, believing that “it’s about whatever you want it to be about”. This fluidity of thought and expression seeps into the songs themselves, which, despite their varied style, maintain a level of continuity throughout.

With a crackle and a spark, album opener “Free Agent” surges forth with an infectious ebb-and-flow of classic 80′s synths. Swimming beneath Arnström’s unique vocals, the instrumentation swells and shrinks to create a floaty, ethereal listening experience. “Note To Self” is equally chilled, but with more delicate loops dancing in an off-beat rhythm to perfectly compliment the echoing of the phrase, “I could have done so much more for you”. The mirroring harmonies burst to life as a throbbing electronic hook quavers and gently draws the track to a close. It’s almost as if you feel this euphoric rush where you travel off into this other world, only to be brought back again in just two minutes and thirty-seven seconds.

“As You See Fit” is a blissful combination of a pulsating beat, sparkling instrumentation and a surreal vocal arrangement of “ooh”-ing and “aah”-ing, whilst my personal favourite, “Bicycle Theme”, is enjoyed the most for its purity and soothing tone. It might not necessarily be what you’d consider the ‘stand-out track’ on the album, but it’s light-hearted, with a submerged bass beat that drives the song at a semi-monotonous pace – in a good way.

“Poolside Glow” is exactly that – a song you ought to listen to by the pool whilst you, er, glow. There’s a gentle, sun-kissed lulling of words and synths that evoke images of sunsets and cocktails and pools which, given it’s November, is the kind of image we all need to get us through the looming cold months. The penultimate track, “Gently Submissive” is a refreshingly sweet little number, like the icing on the cake (unless you don’t like icing in which case that analogy is pointless). As a guitar chord rings out and the sound of clapping begins, you can detect elements of an “indie-folktronica” (I’m making up these genres now too) influence that is unlike the rest of the EP. The chilled-out grooves still resonate, but there’s definitely an abstract take on indie that dazzles the listener until the end.

It’s very referential and varied throughout, which Sebastian owes to “a lot of Pandas and Bears”: “While making “Lovelorn” I listened a lot to Mount Kimbie, Caribou, Pantha du Prince, Gold Panda, Grizzly Bear and so on. I hope what I do isn’t too much of a rip off though, but I definitely see myself as influenced by these artists.” Perhaps most significantly, “Lovelorn” perfectly encapsulates Sebastian’s musical philosophy, which he defines as one built on the creation of “objects of beauty which provoke thought”. Although, for some, the patterns and arrangements characteristic to this genre may become too repetitive, the undertones of indie and electro make listening to this album a thoroughly enjoyable affair. Early 2012 will see the release of their first full album, and plans for touring and promo work are currently in the making.

Finally, I asked Sebastian to air his thoughts about anything he wanted; being a musician, I expected something about record stores becoming redundant or maybe a point or two to about being classed as “chillwave”, but instead, got a strongly opinionated yet succinct film review: “I saw “Never Let Me Go” last night, and what a piece of shit that was. I would like to take this chance to warn people about it. The main plot was so stupid I actually got angry watching it and that rarely happens. This wasn’t a very constructive thing to talk about though. I don’t judge anyone who likes it, but I really can’t think of anything else, so it will have to do.”

So there you have it folks – do buy “Lovelorn” when it is released on November 14th, don’t (necessarily) go and see “Never Let Me Go”.

-Charlie Clarkson

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