2014’s Flame is a kind of companion piece to Erik K. Skodvin‘s solo debut, 2010’s Flare (both on the Berlin-based Sonic Pieces boutique imprint). Although this is only Skodvin’s second full-length release under his own name, it comes at the head of an extensive discography of solo work as (most recently) Svarte Greiner, Deaf Centre (with Otto A. Totland), and B/B/S with Aidan Baker and Andrea Belfi.
A musician and founder of the Miasmah label, Skodvin is also a graphic designer and—as with other musicians who are also visual artists (Rutger Zuydervelt comes to mind)—there is often a thematic unity that connects both aspects of Skodvin’s work. This is especially the case on Flame where both the dark abstractions of Svarte Greiner and the melodic ambience of Deaf Centre have given way to a somewhat more representational music. This perhaps goes some way towards explaining why Skodvin chose to release this album under his own name rather than as Svarte Greiner: whereas Svarte Greiner inhabits the landscape of twentieth-century European artistry, Skodvin has at least one foot planted in a wide-angled American cinematic context.
Understandably, his is a peculiarly European view of America; it is a mythological America, almost archetypal. As the album’s sleeve notes, Flame is ‘silence and screams… street corners in dusk… hidden bars… rural insanity… blues… horse tales…’. It’s dark Americana as seen through the eyes of an outsider; of Paris, Texas; of And the Ass Saw the Angel; of Ennio Morricone’s film scores. It has been conjured from late-night viewings of Jim Jarmusch and Fire, Walk with Me. It is, in short, brilliant.
Musically, Flame works as a kind of bricolage of twentieth-century American musical forms from the very outset. The opener, ‘Shining, Burning’, starts off with a piano that sounds like George Gershwin before stuttering percussive clicks and cymbals straight out of Steve Reich‘s early tape experiments set up an anti-rhythm under layered strings and guitar. Throughout the album, elements of jazz and Western soundtracks break the surface momentarily before submerging once more into the polyrhythmic washes of sound. On the track ‘Flames’, Skodvin sounds like deconstructed fragments of Angelo Badalementi‘s ‘The Pink Room’ (other bits and pieces of which seem to have ended up on other parts of the album, especially where Gareth Davis adds clarinet, sounding like nothing so much as the ghost of Sidney Bechet dragged moaning from his mausoleum, desperately in search of his death-ravaged embouchre).
To say that Skodvin has drawn heavily on his reference material is not to detract from his achievement in any way. While parts of Flame would have been as effective a soundtrack to Night on Earth as Tom Waits‘ actual soundtrack was, that is entirely due to Skodvin’s ability to evoke a mood and nothing at all to do with mimicry.
Flame is further proof—if any were needed—that Skodvin is an artist of considerable stature, and much more than just another purveyor of drone.
01) Shining, Burning
02) Moving Mistake
05) Red Box Curves
06) Corrin Den
07) Black & Bronze
08) Cypress Reverb
09) Drowning, Whistling