CD-R, Afe Records, 2007
Starting with what sounds like a thunderstorm, this offering from Norway’s Non Ethos (a side-project of Hærleif Langås that ran until around 2003; he is now active as Northaunt) is filled with haunting, minimal soundscapes recalling the far reaches of solitude. At the same time, “Syk Asfalt” contains the intimateness of your own thoughts, interspersed with insidious looped segments of uncertain origin and at times deeply unsettling effects. It is that rare thing: an album that grabs your attention from the first and keeps a slowly tightening grip right through to the end.
The artist describes this work as “a meditation on time, urban emptiness, and nature’s destructive force… the crack in the asphalt that slowly spreads, unheard, unseen….” For me there is a sense of accompanying someone on a nighttime journey, during which a slow-building but palpable menace permeates the atmosphere. Something illicit, secretive, perhaps even wrong, is happening here, and even early on there are some truly sinister moments – the end of “Yellow Light” for one – where you literally find yourself holding your breath, waiting for something to happen and not sure you want to hear it when it does. I listened to this alone, and there were times I hit the pause button because I found it uncomfortable to continue, but was compelled to do so because I genuinely wanted to know. There is something here that begs to be uncovered. Finally, towards the end, “Snow” delivers a monologue that actually made me cringe when it began – after the slow introduction of our host by the sound of his footfalls through the unseen landscape, now we hear his voice for the first time. It is ghostly, as ghostly as his presence during all that which has preceded it. This is followed by the final track, “Isar,” weighing in at 18-some minutes – a third of the disc’s total running time – and after the shock of the human voice this barely-there almost-echo should feel like a let down, but instead it seems almost as if the voice has given in to the nothingness, has struggled to break the silence and fallen away, and the nothingness, when it returns, is somehow stronger for having crushed the brief struggle with seemingly no effort. It’s not happy listening, and it’s not sociable listening either.
That I would not listen to it often is not a black mark against its favour – it’s because it deserves to be listened to in full, without interruption, and savoured. Bleak, bitter, cold – and brilliant.
— Catherine C.