We seem to be in the midst of a cultural panic, engendered by the nagging thought that our New Years resolutions have thus far gone unfulfilled. Shake weights lie dormant in the corner of some long forgotten closet, nestled amongst unassembled bow-flex machines, “The Idiot’s Guide To Car Repair,” and a complete set of Rosetta Stone DVDs on how to learn Klingon. And this bothers us. So, we transfer our private frustrations to our colleagues, and thus begins February, the month of irrational professional fervor and widespread hypertension. If you’re driven mad by the thought of opening Gmail for fear of what you might find lurking therein, this 7-inch is the panacea for all your mid-winter woes. Like omniscient musical deities, Danish Brooklynites Alcoholic Faith Mission have swooped down and bestowed two tracks upon us, that with their glacial pace and striking beauty are guaranteed to restore your fragile sense of inner tranquility. In truth, I’d expect nothing less from the hipster descendants of King Hroá°gar, but I digress.
High school chums Thorben Seierá¸ Jensen and Sune Sá¸lund began making music under the name Alcoholic Faith Mission as a duo in 2006. Since then, the group’s expanded to include Kristine Permild, Gustav Rasmussen, Morten Hyldahl and Anders Hjort, and now have three records and an EP to their wonderfully irreverent name. Though it can be tough to catch them live in the states, it’s well worth a plane ticket to Helsinki to hear Alcoholic Faith Mission perform. There’s a remarkable clarity of vision in their music that immediately spreads to listeners, and it’s this infectious appreciation for the stillness of life that we could all use in abundance. They achieve this in part by avoiding extremes, favoring texture and harmony over rhythmic variation, and giving their music “room to breathe.” While you might reasonably expect (and fear) that this would translate into 20 minute Mogwai-esque slowbuild epics, Alcoholic Faith Mission instead channel these elements into reasonably succinct pop songs.
On first listen, just let this 7-inch wash over you. Don’t pick apart the lyrics, don’t follow the song structure, and for the love of god don’t try to figure out what settings they used on the Space Echo. Instead, imagine yourself laying face up in a shallow pool of perfectly warm water. The sun’s shining down, you’re unconditionally comfortable, and the music of Alcholic Faith Mission comes wafting towards you, as though floating on the breeze itself. This is, in my opinion, the best mental preparation for A-Side “Feng Shui Me”. There’s a pervasive sheen to the music on this 7-inch, created in part by the quietly droning synths that grow out of nowhere to hover above the main vocal line. The consistent use of vocal doubling up an octave from the principle melody is so essential to the musical identity of both songs that it could very well be summarized as AFM’s “signature” sound. With Jenson on the lower octave and Permild on the upper, it’s almost unfair to distinguish between main and harmony vocals. The two parts combine so successfully and with such delicate awareness that they function almost as a single voice. Two acoustic guitars (one strumming, one noodling) and a handful of scattered percussion fill out the song. There are no real drums to be heard, but the sonic palette nevertheless feels complete. Some shakers guide us along during the chorus, and the guitar parts work in combination to outline a sense of unhurried time. The song comes to a close on a long fadeout that leaves us with 25 seconds of quiet contemplation before B-Side “Tennessee” gets underway with an abandoned guitar figure and studio countdown. It then opens with an organ drone that persists throughout the song, anchoring listeners and providing a focal point for the instrumental fragments that weave the texture of this brief but beautiful song. Once again we find ourselves in a world where acoustic guitar, solo cymbal, and a bit of shaker do the heavy lifting in keeping time. Background parts are provided by piano, electric guitar, and a bassline that mirrors the piano’s three note ascending figure. The song winds to a close with the musical equivalent of fireworks, as acoustic guitar embellishments accelerate into digitally clipped arpeggios. It ultimately ends as it began, with a solo organ.
I went through a brief 6 year phase during which I listened almost exclusively to Neil Halsted’s post Slowdive mellow-rock project Mojave 3. Alcoholic Faith Mission makes use of the same components (male/female vocal exchange, acoustic guitars as rhythmic propulsion, ambient synth drones) in a slightly different permutation, and to arguably greater effect. While I always felt like there was some great sadness behind Mojave 3’s slow tempo epics, Alcoholic Faith Mission’s songs simply exude optimism. Watch their faces during a live show, and you’ll be left with little doubt about the implicit message delivered through their music: just fucking enjoy yourself, man. There’s none of this gloomy indie rock star nonsense, just six people on a stage, smiling and singing their asses off. This isn’t the introspective mood-inflected rollercoaster ride one might get from Sigur Ros or solo Billy Corgan. Rather, it’s an ongoing ode to joy, sung with unbridled earnestness by a bunch of Europeans who don’t fully understand that it’s not wholly cool to be happy in Brooklyn. The resulting sound is astoundingly tight, with little of the character (read: out of tune vocals, sloppy instrumentalists, bad production) that we’ve come to expect in indie music. It’s possible that this polished approach might even lose those listeners who would rather listen to In the Aeroplane over the Sea on repeat. But whereas Neutral Milk Hotel is apt to turn away those who aren’t willing to bend a little in its direction, Alcoholic Faith Mission’s musical door is wide open to all comers. Hell, they don’t even have a door, just a big banner that says “We love everybody!” draped across the main street of our minds. So if the onslaught of winter pandamonium has you in full retreat, let Alcoholic Faith Mission help you slip away to your special place, or better yet, to realize you don’t have to.
Feng Shui Me
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem128/01 Feng Shui Me.mp3