Dais Records continues their missionary journey into documenting the music of Tor Lundvall, one of the most unique and mysterious figures in ambient music. Transcending genre, Lundvall’s soundtracks of ethereal atmosphere capture a ghostly meditative property unlike any other. After 2011’s four disc Seasons Unfold, Lundvall and Dais bring us another massive round of haunted dreamscapes in this five disc set, spanning material from the last decade of his work, including his most recent album of compositions, the otherwise unreleased Night Studies. Without a trace of redundancy, these five discs present a further dive into the cobalt blue waters of Lundvall’s transcendental musings. At the root of Lundvall’s music is a resonating echo of naturalism as interpreted through electronically altered sounds. This approach may seem paradoxical yet the results are hypnotically transfixing. As a true outsider, Lundvall exists in deep isolation, the music untouched by outside influence. Lundvall’s view of the world is filled with en ever-expanding textual palate. Over the course of these five discs, his consistency and vision remains unmatched.
In chronological order from when they were recorded the set begins with Last Light album from 2004. Piano is at the center of the opening tracks, Lundvall himself in full song form emerges on the second piece on the album, “The Pond”. Lundvall’s voice is another layer of atmosphere itself, a lulling, hushed instrument that adds balance and lyrical direction to his ethereal tonal music. The lyrics don’t add many specifics or explanation, rather another device in which to create and control a seeping melodic atmosphere, singing of dreams left behind and wasted time. Lundvall’s songs lack the definitive structure of rock music, instead drifting in and out of themes without ever abandoning the central melancholic drift. As an introduction to the music of Tor Lundvall, Last Light is the very last rays of the sun setting on the horizon while the sky turns from blue to black.
Empty City begins in classic Lundvall tropes, synth pads setting tones, hushed bells and muted melodies enter, as a stark drum machine syncopates the lush proceedings. From there, the emptiness of Lundvall’s imaginary city becomes evident on the following song, “Platform #3”, an icy stare down a track with no train in sight. Throughout the album, images of dead streets and abandoned storefronts litter the landscape with a quiet intensity. With no words guiding the textures the images are left for the listener to interpret, an abstraction that lends itself further to the work. Tracks like “Buildings and Rain” echo with a strange glow. Lundvall never enters into cliché nor does he let his dynamic overstep its bounds into leading the listener. The sounds are distinct but faint enough to blur without ever becoming heavy handed. There is enough light in the corners that the atmosphere never devolves into suffocating. Like all of Lundvall’s work, Empty City stands at the ends of the abyss and takes a stare into the void, yet knows how to take a step back before its too late. The title tracks adds elements of Lundvall’s vocals humming a pleasant refrain. There are joys to the Empty City among the shadows.
Sleeping and Hiding from 2009, is perhaps the most warmly romantic of the works in this set. In muted tones, Lundvall sings of falling raindrops and unknown strangers while the layers of hummed vocals and clear as night whistling punctuate when his words fade away. The beats and pulses are so restrained it feels as though the music is tuned to some cardiac frequency only understood by the body rather than an external, mechanical device. More fleshed out than his other albums, Sleeping and Hiding most closely approximates a regular song and album cycle, without ever being mistaken for someone else. There is a presence and confidence to the album that fills the room with a driving force. The subtlety of the author is present in detail but somehow Sleeping and Hiding, outgrows its title to take claim to its rightful place as songbook of the night.
While most of the worlds that Lundvall paints are steeped in a naturalist innocence, his 2012 LP release The Shipyard takes on a distinctly nautical feel as harbor sounds, boat calls and fogs are the main focal points on this entirely instrumental album. A thick plume of dense ozone permeates the entire album, the molasses pace of the sounds like a barge slowly trudging through misty dank. Tracks like “Morning Smoke” hang heavy as each veil is added and then lifted like waves on a hull or a solitary lighthouse containing the only beacon of light in the water. The Shipyard is perhaps Lundvall’s most sustained and darkest record of his work. Yet even in its one-dimensional tone, the album couldn’t be made by anyone else.
As his most recent work in the set, Night Studies is a prime example of his continual singularity. Using subtle brushstrokes in exclusively evening hues, the sounds are minimally arranged, each layer used sparingly to allow space to augment each menace or approaching calm. An instrumental album, Night Studies maintains a nocturnal mood throughout from the opening melody of “Soft Blue Light” which uses shades of shadow to cast texture among the blues, blacks and grays to illustrate its moonlit feel. Narcotic in its opiated feel, the album is perhaps the most minimal of his discography. Hearing how little Lundvall needs while drifting in and out of consciousness is a unique task. Tracks like “Is Someone There?” and “Vacant Lot” teem with a subtle anxiety, like the feeling of sneaking around the unknown. Ending with a spectral reprise of the opening melody, “Waking Light” reminds the listener that all evenings eventually end.