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Saturday, February 11, 2023

Ellen Arkbro & Johan Graden – I get along without you very well (Thrill Jockey, 2022)

By Matty Bannond

No clutter. No clamor. No chaos. Instead, music that generates a glassy and reflective calm-lake surface. The eight short tracks on I get along without you very well present stripped-down compositions and scaled-back instrumentation with breathtaking purity. Within such featherweight musical structures, every note and syllable cleanly lands a heavyweight blow on the listener.

Ellen Arkbro and Johan Graden are two Swedish composers and multi-instrumentalists who collaborated on For Organ and Brass in 2017 (reviewed on this site here). That album explored languid, long-tone soundscapes. This latest joint-effort features pop-adjacent songs that faintly recall Sigur Rós, but with an experimental edge that emerges from the album’s rich aural austerity.

Several tracks open with Arkbro’s voice present on the very first beat. “Closer” is one example. Two bass clarinets create a droning backdrop until organ and synth stealthily join the push. Percussion enters too. The song expands like a slow-drawn breath. The husky production and razor-sharp vocal combine to shoot tingling sensations down the listener’s neck and spine.

Trombone and tuba are the only instruments alongside the lyrics on “Temple”. The viscous stream of brassy long-tones erects a solid platform for Arkbro’s abstracted, distracted humming. On “Love you, bye”, Graden contributes organ chords recorded separately at Sankt Jacobs kyrka (Saint James's Church) in Stockholm. The track marks a rare moment when the album fleshes out its bare-bones aesthetic, with the instruments finally howling their pain and pleasure.

Arkbro and Graden’s album is characterized by an absence of density and volume. The result is a unencumbered, disrobed record where nothing is superfluous and everything vibrates with truth. I get along without you very well gets along very well without heavy paraphernalia and crowded sonic spaces. And if absence makes the heart grow fonder, this is truly an album to love and cherish.

The album is available via streaming, digital download and on CD here, with limited edition vinyl on offer in black and light-blue.