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Imagine if Jeff Buckley had lived, and got into prog. That's the timeline I'm finding myself in today as I investigate the new album from Stian Westerhus & Pale Horses, which has landed on my review pile with a note that simply says "on Rune Grammofon - Mike". They know to send Norwegian prog my way.   I have to say this is one of the strangest records I've heard from that scene in some ...

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Maelstrom by Stian Westerhus & Pale Horses
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8/10 Mike Staff review, 16 May 2014
Imagine if Jeff Buckley had lived, and got into prog. That's the timeline I'm finding myself in today as I investigate the new album from Stian Westerhus & Pale Horses, which has landed on my review pile with a note that simply says "on Rune Grammofon - Mike". They know to send Norwegian prog my way.   I have to say this is one of the strangest records I've heard from that scene in some time though. Don't go expecting the pure vibrating energy of Elephant9 or the swaggering bombast of El Doom & The Born Electric or the psychedelic juggernaut of Motorpsycho - 'Maelstrom' is an album which places as much focus on the still, quiet and spiritual aspects of its sound as the dense and chaotic prog meanderings that many of the tracks build into, with the trio employing all sorts of strange sounds - synths, pianos and sometimes vocal manipulation are the primary building blocks.   As I mentioned before, Westerhus's voice is rather reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, a cracked and tortured falsetto which soars angelically over the slow, brooding songs which only occasionally erupt into theatrical rock-outs (but don't worry, they're far too interesting texturally to stumble into Muse territory) but more often maintain a quiet tension with wibbly alien lounge jazz and ethereal smoky ambience. The songs are structured in a lengthy snaking linear fashion and they're not scared of playing slow. It's like Antony and the Johnsons meets Phantom of the Opera, but weirdly, it works, much more affecting and less bloated and indulgent than you might expect.   A highly original and often very weird mixture of grandiose ambition and oddball sonics. If you want graceful progressive pop with weird arty touches, look no further - this is the kind of record Alt-J wish they had the talent and imagination to make.

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