Rasmus Fisker, a Danish musician also known as Sykofant, presents his debut album, a living breathing organism of great refinement and elegance. His music has elements that evoke countless artists from a broad spectrum of music, yet create a singular identity. He unlocks musical images that are both familiar and new, and places each musical moment in the best possible sequence.
"Hydra" is a glitch-laden, wide-arcing and spacious album, yet remains intimate … almost so intimate it becomes claustrophobic, in fact. What initially feels as though it is a scanning of the cosmos on a cold night soon becomes a glimmer of light leaking through a closet door.
There is a great deal of depth to be found here, each track, from the shortest ("Interlude" – just under 1 minute) to the longest ("Slices" and "Hemis", each weighing in at 4:09) carrying a narrative, where microscopic breaks signal changes both deft and gradual, subtle and pronounced.
However, each narrative is part of a grand narrative, that of the album "Hydra". "Slices" brings us into the grand narrative of the album, and acts like a full introduction for everything that is to come, a kind of independent overture where only stylistic elements are referenced. "Interlude" brings a hint of hard-boiled detective ambience, a brief moment of silhouette of fedora hat seen through frosted glass. "Hemis" exemplifies the kind of multichannel approach of Fisker's work, the up-close and personal percussive glitching in tandem with lush dreamy chords on piano, interspersed with unexpected moments of synthetic oddity or foley artist artisanship.
"Hydra", the title track, is charged with narrative energy, with broad and bold strokes. In the sequencing of the tracks, it offers the feeling that we have entered a second act. Its musicality doesn't unfold immediately, instead flexing and gesturing in its general direction, allowing whispers of it to come through. When it fully opens, the effect is breath-taking, and all-too brief. This is a quality present throughout the album: nothing overstays its welcome. "Enter" feels as though it is the most "conventional" piece, yet achieves this amid shifts and blurs, whirrs and stutters, as though it was originally a much longer piece that has been pared down to the slivers that most interested Fisker, and then recompressed into a new form. It projects an unexpected beauty. "Sleep Patterns" follows a similar feeling, yet has a completely different style, much more jittery. It feels a little bit cooler, more self-assured. "Crest" happily weaves its course, interspersed with little asides that are like sub-stories, or momentary takeovers of the main narrative by footnotes. There is a childlike quality, but not a childish one.
"Offline" is like a postmodernist Gnossienne, as though the circuits have been possessed by the ghost of Erik Satie. The piano has that Satie-like pedestrian plod, evoking city streets at evening, while there is a percussive shuffle that hurtles along, like a time-lapsed view of the same city by night. If I was inclined to pick a stand-out track, this would probably be the one. It also seems to be the opener for a third act in the album narrative. "Glowbird" carries a feeling of hazy sunlight, but switches mood with the arrival of a jazzy trombone solo, and again with a warped chiming beat, later overlaid with a brief trumpet solo. The trombone continues to weave in and out. "Minim" brings the album to a close with a stumbling piano line meandering through various percussive chatters and whorls, sparse and skeletal, plinking, hesitant.
After all this descriptive metanarrative and analogizing and circumlocution that is the stock fallback for those of us inclined to write about music, I can only say that words certainly fall short of the actual mark this album makes. It is a remarkably wonderful thing, a beautiful thing, a precious thing. I don't like to make proclamations, but in this line of work it is expected (to a degree), and therefore I make this one: definitely in my top 5 albums of 2014.