Review : When Saints Go Machine - Konkylie
PopmattersThe absurdly-named electro-pop quartet When Saints Go Machine makes music that’s both unforgettable and frustrating, and mostly for the same reason: the singer’s voice. Nikolaj Vonsild’s falsetto is a dark and throaty thing, and his vibrato is visible from space. In every song, Vonsild’s voice hits its sweet spot like an arrow hitting a bullseye, quivering with passion and pleasure. The man obviously loves to sing. He sounds a bit like Erasure’s Andy Bell without the soul aspirations, a bit more like Antony Hegarty without the melodrama. Actually, he sounds a lot like a Danish choirboy set loose in a synth netherworld of ostinatos and polyrhythms, his voice swirling into multitracked polyphony as bad dreams ricochet, walking talking endlessly, dancing dancing on his tongue.
While the band’s synth tracks are good, even great at times, Vonsild’s voice is the Saints’ defining characteristic. So it’s a shame that he sounds a little precious throughout their debut LP Konkylie (Danish for “conch shell”). It’s often hard to tell what he’s singing about, as though he mustn’t let enunciation interfere with his pristinely honed vocal sounds. It’s not that I care what he’s singing about, necessarily; a brief review of the printed lyrics convinces me I’m not missing much. But paradoxically, Vonsild’s a good enough singer that his muddled diction makes him sound stiff. When Michael Stipe famously mumbled through the first couple REM albums, you could just figure he didn’t know any better. But Vonsild sounds like he’s striving to make every syllable attain its Platonic ideal of mysterious electronic melancholy, at the expense of actual communication. He sucks some of the life from these 10 songs.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of life to go around. Though the songs are deliberate and midtempo—no ravers, and only one boring slog near the end—their synth parts are built to pop and lock together, with all the inescapable momentum of a game of Mousetrap. The Saints build their two best songs around keyboard hooks of dreamlike clarity: “Chestnut” sounds like dripping water echoing through hungover ears, and the severe nine-note fanfare of “Church and Law” slices the song’s texture like a guillotine. Other songs’ textures find cool ways to use handclaps, lasers, weird laundromat churgles, and Vonsild’s manipulated voice. When the faire folk ballad “Konkylie” erupts into a geyser of cascading falsettos, it’s a euphoric moment. “Add Ends” ends the album with dripsodies of pleasure....full text
ResidentadvisorWhen Saints Go Machine are a Danish electro pop group that have been on the rise since 2007, headlining clubs around Copenhagen and opening last year's Roskilde Festival. Their music sports a club-friendly electronic sound–thanks in part to band members Silas Moldenhawer and Jonas Kenton, who produce together as Kenton Slash Demon–but often with a moody edge, as heard on their Arthur Russell-inspired single Fail Forever. Konkylie is their second full-length so far, after 2009's Ten Makes a Face, which came out on EMI Denmark. According to a press release, the band has worked steadily on the album since then, and the result is a bit more challenging than anything they've come up with to date. "If you spend two years on 11 songs then there will be a lot of detail and strange sounds in there," says vocalist Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild....full text
MusicomhWhen Saints Go Machine have a well-crafted vision, but you might never spot it. The Danish four-piece's debut album, Konkylie, is not just finely-tuned electro-pop – it's triple-filtered post-punk; super-refined dance; extra-distilled slow-burn electronica. (Yep, it's pretty tight.) And yet it's also one of the most self-assured, accessible records you'll hear this year. In balancing such opposites, it is, simply, a work of unassuming brilliance.
It starts with the name. When Saints Go Machine isn't just a half-baked pun – it's a mission statement. A “let's-make-a-record-that-sounds-like-the-angelic-host-firing-up-a-massive-divine-Korg” kind of mission statement – and overblown or not, that's exactly what they've done.
In the mix is music with a definite precision – an exactness so pitch-perfect that it borders on mechanical. Rich layers, falsetto harmonies, and glossy production run throughout Konkylie, and every moment has been created with painstaking care – from the meticulous matching of synth and vocal samples on Parix, to the dense melding of afro-beat and electronica on Jets, every track has been lovingly assembled. This is, after all, a group that trawled Denmark's tunnels and woodland for a place to record - just to get the vocals right for the title track. (Yep, they're that intense.)...full text
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