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Vallmo - Ruin Walls [Northern Electronics - 2019]

Here Jonas Rönnberg (Varg) puts out the solo debut of his FLORA band mate Melina Åkerman Kvie on his Northern Electronics label. She has also previously collaborated with the Swedish producer on last year's Welcoming Elegance record. Like those collaborations Ruin Walls mixes Scandinavian ambient sounds and dead eyed techno with melancholic pop sensibilities.

It’s a short album clocking in at just over 30mins, though each of the eight tracks display an intention and craft that makes each second carry weight. And like her more prolific collaborator, Kvie shows a taste for eclecticism and variation. Opener f u mixes widescreen ambient pads and light techno percussion with a repeated violin motif which hovers somewhere in the distance. Dive on the other hand is a sombre elegy to isolationism and immersion in nature built from minimal drones and processed strings. Vallmo means Poppy in Swedish, and there is an undoubtedly opiated feel to many of the songs presented.

It's worth noting that though the overall feel of the album is decidedly downbeat, it never gets morose or defeatist. Redemptive shafts of light pierce through the gloom, particularly on the more techno orientated Prison and Not even memories last forever_survivor. There’s a sense of striving and overcoming in the sweeping cinematic arrangements and driving kick drums. Elsewhere Dødt udstiller levende mines a seam of pure Bladerunner synth exuberance while Time is measured by the moss_dust of u collapses queasy synth and drone gestures into smoky dubwise ambience.

The final two tracks exemplify Kvie’s interplay of light and shade. Young girls surrender to powder, like Dive, is a minimal ambient piece, almost confessional, where Kvie – her voice modulated – sings and speaks on themes of longing, loss and medicated states. Whether she is speaking of her own experiences or of someone else’s isn’t clear, though the fragments of speech hint at a struggle coping with a lover’s drug problem. This is certainly the album’s darkest moment but thankfully Kvie leads us out with one final hopeful slab of ambient techno on Blind, all sweeping synth pans and marching percussion. It's a positive end to a highly accomplished and resolutely cathartic musical expression.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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