Published June 26, 2015
While Anton Kaldal Ágústsson has released quite a bit of music as Tonik over the years, ‘Snapshots’ is his debute venture as Tonik Ensemble. The album is centred on the concept of synaesthesia, a condition wherein sounds involuntarily evoke an experience of colour. This is not a novel theme for composers—the idea of capturing the relationship between colour, sound and atmosphere through music by using orchestration, harmony and texture as a colour palette, can be traced back to the works of Debussy and Ravel, and more recently through the experimental electronic works of Susumu Yokota.
‘Snapshots’ provides a modern and genre-pushing take on this idea, blending house, classical and jazz motifs together in an album that creates a delicate balance of chilled beats, tension and melancholy. Anton has compared his method of writing to painting a canvas or to cooking, slowly adding layers to produce an interesting, balanced mix, and this can certainly be heard throughout the album.
Opening track “Prelude” draws the listener in with a crisp twigs-burning-in-fire crackle, which is underscored by deep, primal bass and topped with a delicate, dreamy vocal call. A melancholy string interlude then builds to introduce beats before a blurring of tracks settles into the low and almost seductive minimalist beat and vocal combination of “Synaesthesia.”
The album then takes a slight commercial and more conventional turn with the next two tracks, “Landscape” and “The Further I Go,” which delve into more standard chill-out/house territory and would not be out of place in the background at a sunny bar while beautiful people sip cocktails, or on a Ministry of Sound Chillout compilation.
“Powers of Ten” steers the album back onto its introverted tangent and provides what I think is the standout vocal melody of the album. It’s not hard to get lost in its soaring but well-controlled beauty teamed with sparse and gentle beats. It’s the kind of track that makes you stop what you are doing and just lose yourself in it.
“Imprints” snaps you out of the trance with the sound of bubbling water and raises the energy levels with a tense dark driving beat. Teamed with the lyrics— “Environmental noises/Sound from the waves/Of ever-growing current/Erasing my trail”—provides a gripping portrayal of the fear, adrenalin and beauty of Iceland’s landscapes.
“Nangilima”—presumably a reference to Astrid Lindgren’s beloved 1973 novel ‘The Brothers Lionheart’—is the land of light, where eternal happiness reigns, that is entered at death. In Astrid’s book, Nangilima is reached when two brothers jump off a cliff together in order to never be separated again. Upon reaching the bottom of the gorge, they are cut off and one brother yells to the other “I see the light!” Musically, what starts as a growly, sparse and tense track eventually scales down to a devastating cinematic string lament with the lyric “You’re fading away” repeated between the mournful swirling strings and now-returned driving beats. The result is a remarkable and emotional experience.
If “Nangilima” is indeed a reference to the brothers’ death in the book, the final track of the album, “Until We Meet Again,” is an incredibly appropriate ending. The track is soothing and filled with light—an optimistic and childlike simple ending to what is otherwise an intricate and beautiful album.
Well worth a listen.