|Johan Agebjörn |
Acclaimed Swedish electronica producer Johan Agebjörn’s highly-anticipated solo ambient debut, Mossebo, evokes human warmth in a wintry landscape, expertly juxtaposing intimacy and isolation.
Named after the house in which Johan lived while composing and recording the album, Mossebo is a collection of ambient pieces composed between 2004 and 2007; and one additional track that was created in 1996.
Says Agebjörn, “I would describe the tracks as ambient with electro beats, giving the music a rich atmosphere as well as a distinct forward motion in a sci-fi kind of way. If I were to choose three words to describe the music, they would be melancholy, winter, and travel.”
With the stunning wordless vocals of Lisa Barra skillfully winding their way through many of Agebjörn’s dazzling synth compositions, Mossebo is an album that is both electronic and organic at its core. Barra’s childhood journies through India led her to a deep appreciation of the folk music of different cultures, and that passion comes through on these tracks to express an array of emotions that range from soothing, to forboding, to uplifting; difficult emotions to convey in the world of electronic music.
While he is best known as the creative force behind the popular electronica dance project Sally Shapiro, Johan Agebjörn proves on Mossebo that he is not afraid of the darker and deeper spaces – in fact, he seems quite at home in those spaces, indeed.
Who is Johan Agebjörn and where has he been all this time? Though probably a new name to most, his bio on Discogs.com (and his website) shows him treading in quite divergent streams, creating piano-based compositions in addition to Italo-disco under his Sally Shapiro alias. All over the stylistic map it might be, but Mossebo blew me back—totally engaging, lithe in execution and elegantly produced, its luxurious ear candy handily updates the early 90s heyday of Euro ambient techno. Agebjörn’s influences run a wide gamut: he himself notes the ballast of Autechre on ‘Ambient Computer Dance’ (the Incunabula era), and Lisa Barra’s wordless (and sometimes wordful) vocals recall that other Lisa-nicked chanteuse, Gerrard. (Elements of Erik Wøllo and Candice Pacheco pop up as well.) Barra’s baleful coos and energized whispers play all kinds of acrobatic games across Agebjörn’s rhythm tracks, trading their hypertexts with arctic synths, the odd piano, and even themselves, Agebjörn admitting a fondness for vocoders and chopped-up voice edits. All due respect given to the Delerium boys and any Enigma worshippers/wannabes out there, but here’s sultry techno-trance done right. The opening ‘Dulciter Somni’ makes a good argument against such ultra-polished digital faux ‘world’ music, Agebjörn setting up a fairly simple drum machine riff over which Barra swoops and swoons amongst pink-purplish electronic flotsam. One of Mossebo’s particularly notable graces is that its richly-detailed fabric comfits a largely uncluttered music: Agebjörn no doubt clings to the less-is-more school and milks that credo for all its worth. Thus ‘The Sound of Snowflakes Touching the Ground’ appears quite enamored of its pristine subzero minimalism, pitter-pattering beats skating below Barra’s cries as if on a thin icepatch, and the two-part ‘Siberian Train’ actually feels more epic than it is, Agebjörn’s locomotive programming and delineated synths reminiscent of Tangerine Dream’s classic ‘Madrigal Meridian’, or even a distantly-engineered cousin to their own ‘Love On A Real Train.’ In any case, Mossebo is like some brilliant bolt out of the blue, unexpected, surprising, ever-rejuvenating—built for the future, Johan?- Darren Bergstein, e/i Magazine, installment 24
The material on Johan Agebjörn's debut album, much of which predates his work with Sally Shapiro, is a good distance from the melodic dance-pop of that project, which was overtly influenced by early-'80s Italo-disco -- although Shapiro's instrumental album closer ‘Sleep in My Arms’ suggested something of what was in store. In a sense this is another sort of throwback, to the even earlier ambient explorations of Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream, but this kind of music arguably has little use for concepts like progress and timeliness, and Mossebo's lush, limpid soundscapes are equally redolent of contemporary artists like Susumu Yokota. Agebjörn himself cites the celebrated early-'90s work of Autechre, Aphex Twin, and Future Sound of London, as well as his fellow Swede Krister Linder (Yeti) and the Norwegian Biosphere, as primary influences, which gives a good idea of what to expect here, though Mossebo definitely rests on the more placid and soothing end of things. As suggested by song titles like ‘The Sound of Snowflakes Touching the Ground’ and ‘Putting More Wood in the Fire,’ there is something palpably Scandinavian and wintry about the album's tone, less due to icy twinkling synths (as in his work with Shapiro) than a gentle, glacial sweep that suggests the quiet grandeur of the Northern lights. Sonically, there's an even blend between electronic sounds (hazy synthesizer washes, gently pulsing clicks and hums) and organic ones (most notably Lisa Barra's entrancing wordless vocalizing, but also occasional pianos and field-recorded sound effects.) A handful of the pieces are entirely beatless, while only the vaguely electro ‘Ambient Computer Dance’ has anything approaching a danceable groove. Mossebo functions well as a fluid but slightly varied whole, although the two-part ‘Siberian Train’ offers something of a respite from the unmitigated new age serenity -- the first half, which Agebjörn record in 1996, has a darker, foreboding cast that sets it apart from the rest of the album. It's accomplished, if not entirely distinctive mood music, and well worth experiencing, though clearly a different animal from the Agebjörn of Disco Romance.- K. Ross Hoffman, AllMusic.com
Swedish electronic composer Agebjorn's debut solo release would've been a superb arctic soundtrack on it's own, without a doubt. His cool and glacial soundscapes are lovely and mysterious, hinting at darkness and isolation, but remaining alive and hopeful somehow. However, coupled with the brilliant, wordless vocals of Lisa Barra, 'Mossebo' becomes a remarkably lovely set of exotic ambient songs that evoke naturalistic and multi-cultural climates. Barra's Indian-inspired vocals are at once ethereal and earthy, reminding somewhat of Lisa Gerrard or Sky Cries Mary's Anisa Romero - some esteemed company. That said, this album is simply a breathtaking combination of sound and voice. As for notable individual tracks, 'Ambient Computer Dance' breaks the mood a bit with an early Autechre-influenced rhythmic interlude, but the strings that summon themselves later in the track glide the vaguely IDM-ish track into more beautiful, almost classical territory. 'Siberian Train (parts 1 &2)' are fitting and evocative audio travelogues of the long, harsh Siberian railway journey, and 'A New Day Arrives' ends the trip with a gentle ambient whisper. Superlative work here.- Todd Zachritz, Goatsden
This work disc by Johan Agebjorn is a fresh fusion of Ambient and Synth-Pop. The music is, on the whole, melodic, and with clear romantic traits. The pieces tend to be soft, with slow rhythms, or even static. A certain nostalgic air is present in most of the themes, although there are others with merry, festive passages. The warm voice of Lisa Barra, complementing some of the tracks, contribute in a remarkable way to make of this album a joyful musical experience.- Alejandro Hinojosa, Amazing Sounds
I'll have to admit, I talk about electronica the same way I talk about most professional sports (’I love when he wins at the game that he plays’). The difference is of course, I actually care about my favorite beat-makers enough to keep talking and make a bigger fool out of myself. Oh boy. Here we go again....
Today, I flaunt my ignorance to shill for the latest offering from Sally Shapiro mastermind, Johan Agebjörn. His newest album, and first official solo release Mossebo was released yesterday, an event that dovetailed nicely with my eMusic downloads renewing. Go synergy!
The problem I have with a lot of electronica is just that. It's electronic music. Machines don't have a soul. (Although once I did see a drum machine with a ‘Drum Machines have no soul’ sticker, a moment that made my evening.) Agebjörn clearly understands that the will of the artist must show though the medium1. Swapping the trashy yet addictive dance beats of Sally Shapiro's Disco Romance for the understated synth drama of Mossebo, he creates a world that's both epic and peaceful. It's a bit like watching a CinemaScope version of a 1980s snowfall, without, y'know the pesky frostbite and day glow leggings.
Since each track flows into the next, returning to theme variations throughout the entire album, it's difficult to parse specific tracks without again showing the breadth and depth of my ignorance. (I imagine the conversation would go something like, ‘I like the part where he goes bloop bleep bleep...’) However I will say that the smooth cohesiveness of the album, augmented with samples of singer Lisa Barra's otherworldly soprano, makes for a compelling late night listen. Or...whatever that is in ‘electronica speak.’- Confessions Of A Would Be Hipster
Ambient groove featuring soothing female vocals. Johan Agebjörn runs through a diverse range of ambient and electro stylings on Mossebo - steady drones and environmental sounds support timeless vocal chants that echo and soar in Gregorian fashion, tranquil piano phrases lie down among soft evening synth strains, digital beats lightly flicker beneath warm synth and voice duets or join with programmed bass as on the track Ambient Computer Dance where ambience almost gives way to dreamy downtempo. Toward the latter part of the album the pair of tracks Siberian Train Parts I and II deliver a somewhat darker, colder sound - no singing here, rhythms are more shuffling, the spaces broader, the outlook more isolated - distorted speech samples thick with sonic mist announce travel details, breathy mouthings join the idle beats maintaining the peculiar juxtaposition of organic/mechanic that pervades most of Mossebo. The concluding piece has a more spacey feel than previous tracks - Lisa Barra's clear voice once more melting into a bed of melancholy sweeps and welling pads.
The artwork for Mossebo comes in a jewel case mostly adorned with colourful abstract imagery. The front cover is bisected by a ragged black strip parting indigo from orange that almost looks like a landscape turned on its side - heavy sky to the right, sunset sea to the left. On the back cover deeper, more saturated hues in abstract formation similarly suggest possible resolution. The tracklist is here each with a writing credit alongside - below more brief credits particularly drawing attention to the vocal work of Lisa Barra. Inside the album opens out to reveal first a photograph of a snow covered house (I'm guessing this is where the music was recorded in keeping with the album title). The insert further opens out to reveal a track by track discussion of the music, explaining influential ideas, recording details and various thoughts from the artist. A paragraph of thanks follows and finally Johan says 'Be kind to animals,' good advice.
Johan Agebjörn has been recording for some years now, perhaps he is most widely known for his work with Sally Shapiro the neo-italo electronica dance project; however he has also produced solo music through his personal label Husmus Media, named after the mice that formed his earliest audiences. That said Mossebo is presented as Johan's first solo album 'proper' - and brings together tracks composed mostly during the years 2004 through to 2007, with one earlier track initially written as far back as 1996 beginning life on an Atari sequencer. Based in Gothenburg Sweden, this time Johan releases his album via Lotuspike choosing the title Mossebo after the name of the house where he lived during the creation of the music. Eleven tracks in all make up this strong disc of diverse electronic terrain united by an interest in folk tradition and ambient expression with a slightly melancholy northern chill to the air.
The album title ‘Mossebo’ is named after the house where the actual music was composed and recorded. Composed and played by Swedish electronica producer Johan Agebjörn, it marks his ambient debut, as Johan seems to best know as the creative mind behind a dance project called Sally Shapiro.
‘Mossebo’ contains a selection of 11 nicely rendered tracks composed between 2004 and 2007, and one older piece from 1996. The music breaths the same pleasant arctic atmosphere and desolate feeling that also graces the music of Erik Wollo or Biosphere.
This is especially evoked by the stunning wordless vocals of Lisa Barra which accompany the rich ambient sound world tapestries with gentle electro beats, in which organic and melancholic undercurrents swirl just beneath the surface as the cinematic journey unfolds.
E.g., the 3-minute ‘Shoreline’ is beautiful in its simplicity, while other tracks (especially in the first half of the album) shine by means of the perfectly matching and close interactions of intimate textures, slowly paced beats and vocal pads.
The two-part ‘Siberian Train’ at the end of the album is a bit rougher, adding a surprising, almost mind dazzling edge when compared to the other music.
But overall, ‘Mossebo’ offers expansive, very well mixed, produced and mastered ambient music that is a remarkable journey of its own.
Mossebo is an ambient new age album full of lush textures and colors. ‘Dulciter Somni’ is a mellow opener, effective at building anticipation of what may follow. Johan Agebjörn’s electronics are soft and light, and Lisa Barra’s voice on 5 of the 11 tracks adds a dreamlike ethereal quality that permeates the disc. Bright shimmering sequencing forms the backing to ‘The Sound of Snowflakes Touching The Ground.’ In addition to Barra’s vocal, there is a male voice providing a brief narrative at a couple of points, presumably Agebjörn.
The title track is a dreamy bridge to ‘The Sea’, which is the strongest vehicle yet for showcasing Barra. In a change of pace, ‘Ambient Computer Dance’ is exactly what you’d expect from the name; it is melodic, bouncy and fun.
‘Shoreline’ is a subdued piano piece with bells and other delicate synths. Agebjörn asks the listener to imagine this as the last track on Side A. ‘Unitas Vitae’ is an appropriately livelier number to start Side B, although it still has the same softness that runs throughout. Next is the original mix of the ‘Snowflakes’ track, with Barra’s vocals clipped into brief snippets. Agebjörn made the right choice in keeping her vocals intact for the lengthier version.
‘Siberian Train’ is divided into two parts, and chugs right along like a locomotive; a woman even gives directions to disembarking passengers. The first part is more minimal and haunting, and the second has crisp, bright percussion to lighten things up just a bit. These are my two personal favorites on the album, although there is plenty to recommend on Mossebo.
If, like us, you were smitten with cute-as-a-button disco queen Sally Shapiro in the halcyon days of 2007 (when Sweden, not Alaska, was the media's frozen tundra of choice), we have good news. Shapiro's producer, Johan Agebjörn, has a new solo album ‘Mossebo’ out Wednesday. It's a more melancholy and ambient tone poem of an album, compiled from four years of off-and-on composing, and pretty far afield of his Italo-disco floor-fillers with Shapiro. But its chilly synths and ephemerally mournful vocals should be perfect for the coming of fall. We've got a particularly wistful yet head-nodding MP3 from it here, and as devoted Kraftwerk fans, consider us suckers for anything called ‘Ambient Computer Dance.’- August Brown, Los Angeles Times
Music better transmits the complexity of human feelings and emotions than words do. Electronica artist Johan Agebjörn knows this, yet on Mossebo (59'20’) incorporates plenty of vocals into his work - but almost no words. The first instrument (the human voice) goes well with the newest instrument (the synthesizer) and on this CD combine to create a fascinating range of texture and atmosphere. Moving between that which is lovely and warm and the icy sharpness of a frostbound digital world, Agebjörn produces Ambient Music informed by Techno ambitions - with the intimacy of the former and the energy of the latter. Strutting basslines, cascading electronic tones and the psychic noise of the world combine in 11 tracks, each more a thought cycle than a song. Patterned over both time and space Agebjörn's talents generate bewitching melodies, breathy vocalizations and drum machine beats unwinding in beautiful bright logic, as easily as synthetic tone poems which devour dark static durations. An album where Contemporary Instrumental wanders into Space, and IDM crosses into New Age, Mossebo is the rare find that combines its disparate elements into something bigger than the sum of its parts.- Chuck van Zyl, Star's End