We Never Came To The White Sea

Johan Agebjörn / Mikael Ögren

We Never Came To The White Sea


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About We Never Came To The White Sea


1   As I Passed the Vyartsilya Border Crossing

2   Motor Stop, 6km to Suoyarvi

3   The Lights of Lakhkolampi Pass By

4   0:55 In Matkaselkya

5   Relentless Rain Over Ladoga

6   Aurora Over Odega

7   Four Hours To Karhumäki

8   Sunset In Vodlozerski

9   The Rajakarjala Forests

10   Sleepless On The Kostomuksha-Petrozavodsk Night Train

Spotted Peccary Music presents We Never Came To The White Sea, a collaboration between Swedish artists Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren.

Billed as “the original soundtrack to an unreleased road movie of the same name”, We Never Came To The White Sea intertwines vivid ambience with driving rhythms, giving the music a cinematic atmosphere and strong forward motion that drives effortlessly through the ten intriguing tracks on a compelling sonic journey through the lesser-known landscape of Northern Russia near the eastern border of Finland.

Agebjörn explains, “The album is a soundtrack to an unreleased (and unedited) road movie which we filmed in Russian Karelia (formerly Finland), where my grandfather was born. It’s a beautiful county, sparsely populated with an old culture, that’s inspiring for making music. All the track titles reflect the story.”

This ambient electronic soundtrack’s tonal character, melodic harmonies, and synth atmospheres set a scene for traversing vast forests and expansive topologies, magically revealed through the Karelian night and cinematic sunsets of Vodlozersky National Park.

With plenty of retro sonic influences, the rich and evolving synth sequences organically mingle with melancholy piano passages and ethereal vocals of the acclaimed Sally Shapiro. Somewhat reminiscent of musical inspirations Pete Namlook and Klaus Schulze, We Never Came To The White Sea powerfully expresses Agebjörn and Ögren’s impressions of such a beautiful country enriched with age-old culture and haunting energy.


As May breaks, I have a CD of the Month that might take you back a bit to winter landscapes, but once you hear Johann Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren’s We Never Came to the White Sea, you may want to stay there. It’s a road trip through Karelia on the border of Finland and Russia and it is one of the most evocative electronic albums of 2017.

Swedish synthesist Johan Agebjörn has been creating organically sourced electronic albums for the last decade, including Mosebo and The Mountain Lake. He also has a pop group called Sally Shapiro, featuring his wife as vocalist and they have had dance hits in Europe. In this collaboration, Agebjörn teams up with Mikael Ögren, a priest in the Swedish church. But apparently, he goes for synthesizers more than pipe organs.

Together they create an album of immense atmosphere and deep melodicism. It’s inspired by a road trip in Karelia along the Finnish-Russian border. In a series of tone poems, they create expansive landscapes that would make this a great soundtrack for any cinematic vista, but this one is closely linked to its sources. All the titles are taken from locations and they don’t seem like after-the-event names. They even have footage of their travels that has turned up in some videos.

Agebjörn and Ögren mix retro electronic sounds with contemporary touches. “As I Passed the Vyartsilya Border Crossing” is a mix of churning drive, polyrhythmic percussion, swirling electronic textures and vocal loops ala Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman,” courtesy of Sally Shapiro voice samples. Unlike a lot of electronic music, the duo actually solo as the track builds to a peak.

Agebjörn and Ögren have taken ambient and space music aesthetics, but updates them with more contemporary EDM strategies like the distressed sounds and battle-march tribal electronic percussion on “The Lights of Lakhkolampi Pass By”

Their compositions aren’t steady state ambience but ebb and crescendo, often alternating between subtle, introspective passages and driving grooves. On “Relentless Rain Over Ladoga” they deploy a classic sequencer groove and vocoder voices. A delicate, melody tricked out in delays, is matched by a contrapuntal theme that seem to circle each other.

The only piece they didn’t compose is “Aurora Over Odega,” a rework of “Aurora” by French electronic artist, Tommy ‘86. His original version casts back to the sound of late 70s Tangerine Dream, with an elongated electronic ambience to open before pinging sequencers and keyboard stabs up the energy. In Agebjörn and Ögren’s hand it turns into a classic early 2000-style ambient track. It evolves into a slow groove with more rhythmic vocal utterances from Sally Shapiro and builds to a soaring anthem with synth solos note-bending all over.

Judging from “Sunset in Vodlozerski,” it wasn’t all train rides and vast landscapes. This is a drifting lounge track with wordless vocals from Anneli Andersson. It could be a serene landscape in Finland, or you could be drifting in space bar, surrounded by stars with a Blue Monday drink in your hand.

The album does end on a somewhat harrowing and realistic portrayal of the song’s title, “Sleepless On the Kostomuksha-Petrozavodsk Night Train.” Sounds of a railway station and the actual train lead into a disturbed night of pulsing rhythms and a violin line from Anders Frostin that swirls in like an insistent, unbidden thought. Frostin concludes the album with a haunting solo coda that is as mournful as the night. It’s a wonderful depiction of a journey that might not be so pleasant.

But We Never Came to the White Sea is definitely not unpleasant. It’s a meticulously conceived album that will take you on a journey no matter where you are.

- John Diliberto, Echoes Radio (CD of the month)

Shortly following the early 2015 release of Johan Agebjörn's solo album Notes (easily one of the highlights of his career), the Swedish electronic musician announced that Sally Shapiro, his beloved Italo-disco-inspired collaboration with an anonymous chanteuse, would come to an end after the release of a final single, "If You Ever Wanna Change Your Mind." By no means was Agebjörn finished with making music, however. He soon began working with his neighbor Mikael Ögren on a few remixes, and by 2016 they had finished recording an album together. We Never Came to the White Sea appears on Spotted Peccary, the parent label of Lotuspike, which released Agebjörn's solo albums Mossebo and The Mountain Lake. Like those albums, which contained material Agebjörn had been working on since the '90s, White Sea is closer to ambient and new age than Agebjörn's work with Shapiro or his 2011 neo-disco solo album Casablanca Nights. Mossebo contained a two-part composition titled "Siberian Train," and all of the song titles on White Sea reference obscure Russian or Finnish locations, so the album similarly evokes a trip through the snowy European countryside. The liner notes even state that the disc is the soundtrack to an unreleased road movie. The album is somewhat somber and gloomy, but not bleak or frigid, and there are a few hints of the playfulness of Notes, with a few discofied melodies peaking out from the chilled synths and unhurried tempos. "The Lights of Lakhkolampi Pass By" is an early highlight, starting off calm before delicate yet bouncy beats appear, laced with effects recalling mid-'90s Aphex Twin, but less caustic. "Relentless Rain Over Ladoga" is the most trance-influenced track, beginning with the sound of rainfall before developing a percolating synth bassline and a hypnotic midtempo beat. Eventually, shimmering, echo-covered tones and vocoderized singing join up with Agebjörn's recognizable melodies. "Aurora Over Odega" (the duo's remix of a track by synthwave artist Tommy '86) features the sound of Shapiro's voice, but it's sampled and used as an instrument, combined with vocoders, suspenseful melodies, and slow, dramatic '80s synth-drums. Later songs on the album have more of a dusky, moonlit feel, with slow, swirling beats and soft, comforting melodies. The final two tracks feature icy, ethereal viola playing by Anders Frostin, who couldn't be more appropriately named. Majestic and expansive, White Sea is a remarkable journey, and an easy recommendation to anyone who enjoyed Agebjörn's previous works.

- Paul Simpson, AllMusic

The White Sea record is the product of a trip Agebjörn and Ögren took to the Russian side of Karelia.

The electronic soundscapes feature synths that sit in idle meditation, pulsate, go on arpeggiated escapades, and flutter with resonance as if peeling atoms off molecules one or two at a time in a bid to more fully understand the nature of things. Drums splash and voices carry great weight without using words. Organic colors and tones permeate. It’s an enriching experience to travel around Karelia this way.

What we’re hearing is the soundtrack to an unreleased and unedited road movie the two men made on that journey to a land from where one of Agebjörn’s grandpas hails — he was born in one of the areas Russia absorbed from Finland.

The record follows what is a still-formulating story about traversing the sparsely populated country with its old culture. The cuts’ titles name-check geographical markers and reference conditional and emotional aspects of the journey: Examples include “Relentless Rain Over Ladoga” and “Four Hours to Karhumäki.” The all-encompassing nature of the album’s concept ensures that the listener is able to more wholly understand a region not many people know about.

Along for the ride — at least on the record — are the wordless vocals of Anneli Andersson, a friend of Mikael. Another thing: Sally Shapiro fans who’ve been mourning the 2016 retirement of the duo are in for a treat. She does her own wordless vocals on one song, “Aurora Over Odega,” a rework of “Aurora” by French retrosynther (and Blood Music artist) Tommy ‘86.

With some washed out noise, the record kicks off with “As I Passed the Vyartsilya Border Crossing,” a beautiful and kinetic piece with glassy synth pads, deliberate percussive sounds, and a buttery (and catchy) synth lead melody that forms the theme of the adventure on which we’re poised to embark. As with Agebjörn’s previous ambient work, such as 2015’s Notes, White Sea manages to feature arrangements that despite their electronic provenance are inherently organic in feeling. “Vyartsilya” does an excellent job of building up our expectations in this regard.

From there, we’re committed to experiencing all Karelia has to offer — stunning wintry landscapes; Lake Ladoga, one of the largest lakes in Europe; Vodlozersky National Park; majestic forests; animals such as wolves; and its people, with one cut featuring a child speaking Karelian.

One standout is the piano-driven “Four Hours to Karhumäki.” The rapid runs of the keys find common ground with equally kinetic vocal-sample arrangements, icy synths, and rounds of splashes of synthetic wind. As the name suggests, this piece is about movement from one point to another, underscored by a frantic but pronounced rhythm section.

“The Lights of Lakhkolampi Pass By” achieves a similar sense of kinesis, although at first the spectral, glassy synth pads haunt us with their reticence. It’s only about two minutes in — after the synth trills come in and after the Karelian boy speaks — that the slightly buzzed-out, bit-crushed drum machine makes its mark. It bounces steadily, sometimes failing in its own distortion, as the pretty synths rev up the wobbly melody. It’s a gem of a track.

But Agebjörn and Ögren also know how to capture the serene moments — those spaces and seconds when we are able to be contemplative and feel some kind of connection with everything, or at least something. On “Sunset in Vodlozerski,” Andersson’s wordless chants weave in and out, helping the Badalamenti-esque dreamy jazz-pop-inspired composition relay the tranquility people must feel when they surrender to the massive glory of a Karelian sunset.

“The Rajakarjala Forests” is a fascinating and ruminative cut. Its base is pulsating dance formation with seared and acidy bass-synth machinations. Overriding that is a tempered array of meditative pads, punctuative washes of white noise, and distant voices that fade into the icy cold reverb of the afterlife.

Nature takes the front seat on “Relentless Rain Over Ladoga,” a magical number bathed in the sound of, well, relentless rain. Amid the constancy of the precipitation, crystalline synth-runs fly up and down the scale paving the way for a massive, Alesis-powered synth-bass showcase. A pulsating kick drum and busy hi-hats soon join the arrangement, providing a light disco vibe to this mind-altering cut. Once the rain gives away, we get a fantastic analog-sounding synth solo with sky-high ambitions. A vocoded voice and occasional distorted guitar sentiments (although probably not actually guitar), when combined with everything else, give this piece a Cretu-meets-Moroder vibe.

By the time the story reaches its end with the rail announcement in “Sleepless on the Kostomuksha-Petrozavodsk Night Train,” we’re left with a powerful, and somewhat mournful, violin lead whose interplay with a cascade of synths showcases how even in ancient lands — perhaps especially in ancient lands — no matter how much we try to understand them experientially, we’re always left with more questions.

Maybe we learn a thing or two about our family lines or cultures or politics, or humanity as a species, and perhaps we even learn some new things about ourselves, but it’s never enough. If reaching the White Sea means we’ll feel complete in our knowledge, then if we don’t make it to its shores we’ll be left feeling less than whole. We’ll have to come back and try again.

- Aaron Vehlinggo, Vehlinggo

'We Never Came To The White Sea' is a collaboration between Swedish artists Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren, an original soundtrack to an unreleased road movie of the same name. Agebjörn has worked solo in ambient electro and also disco (neo-italo disco) with singer Sally Shapiro with several albums to his credit as well as remixes for others. As for Ögren, he's a priest by profession but also a synthesist heavily influenced by electronic pioneers Kraftwerk and Jean Michel Jarre, as well as '90s trance innovators. The two, being neighbors by location are often frequent collaborators. Also present on this album is the (wordless, sampled) voice of Sally Shapiro, as well as contributions by Tommy '86, Anneli Andersson (vocals), and Anders Frostin (violas). Obviously the music is cinematic in nature being a soundtrack, and it has a huge lush melambient (my word; melodic ambient = melambient) quality to it. Although the album begins with what one might take to be a New Age melody on "As I Passed The Vyartsilya Border Crossing," (a recurring theme) this is not what I'd call New Age music. There are passages where the rhythm is a little too powerful for that, such as the bold bass on The Lights of Lakhkolampi Pass By," and other sections where the ambience tends to turn dark. This is an album of many moods and influences, and Agebjörn and Ögren have combined their talents to take you on a trip with numerous facets and moods. While the melodic content is heavily indebted to Jean Michel Jarre, the rest recalls such artists as Klaus Schulze, Vangelis, Pete Namlook, Patrick O'Hearn, and the ambient side of Art of Noise. This is really a beautifully composed and produced album full of enchanted mystery and beguiling atmospheres. The voices employed go a long way to enhance this. 'We Never Came To The White Sea' is likely an album to remain on my playlist for some time to come.

- Steve Mecca, Chain D.L.K.

"We Never Came to the White Sea" is a soundtrack and (the first) concept album by Johan Agebjörn and his friend/neighbour/collaborator Mikael Ögren to an unreleased (and unedited) road movie filmed in Russian Karelia, where Mr. Agebjörn’s grandfather was born. This region, which used to belong to Finland, has an old culture, beautiful countrysides and is sparsely populated. All these elements proved most inspiring for making music with all the track titles reflect the actual story.

This all has worked out well, offering one hour of fresh, varied and expansive electronic music, wordless vocals along fine rhythms of which the overall production is very ‘90s-inspired (synthesizers used by Fax artists, such as the Roland JD-800 were applied). I love the mélange of intimate yet lyrical-atmospheric paintings next to some slick groovy excursions such as "The Lights of Lakhkolampi", the spicy/sequencer-driven and slightly vocoder-dressed "Relentless Rain over Ladog" or the acid-ambient making up "The Rajakarjala Forests".

It all makes most curious for the actual journey and documentary it all was composed for, not the least due to the intruiging emotive current embedded in the music. Although sonically different, some of this creates a similar cinematic feel as the works of Boreal Taiga.
Well done, Johan & Mikael.

- Bert Strolenberg, Sonic Immersion
The White Sea is a southern inlet of the Barents Sea, located on the northwest coast of Russia. It is surrounded by Karelia (formerly part of Finland, then an independent republic, then annexed by the Soviet Union and never given back) to the west, the Kola Peninsula to the north, and the Kanin Peninsula to the northeast. The whole of the White Sea is currently under Russian sovereignty and considered to be part of the internal waters of Russia. The album at hand, a collaboration between Swedish artists Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren is billed as ‘the original soundtrack to the unreleased road movie of the same name,’ which follows a series of titles beginning with “As I Passed the Vyartsilya Border Crossing” on to things like “The Lights of Lakhkolampi Pass By” and “Aurora over Odega,” and so on, ending with “The Rajakarjala Forests” and “Sleepless on the Kostomuksha-Petrozavodsk Night Train.” Indeed, this ambient electronic soundtrack is very cinematic in scope, with plenty of soft padding and sampled effects, understated sequenced rhythms and bright melodies, part ethereal, part melancholy, and shimmering with beauty, everything evolving slowly as it goes organically. Apparently the movie was filmed, but remains unedited and unreleased. For most of the ten tracks it’s just Agebjörn and Ögren, presumably both on synthesizers. On one track there are vocal samples by Sally Shapiro, an Italian singer whom Agebjörn has produced, other tracks include more vocal samples by Anelli Andersson, some distorted by vocoder, and viola on a couple other tracks by Anders Frostin. While Agebjörn claims influence from Klaus Schulze and Pete Namlook (definitely detectable in the fabric of their sound), one might also detect some retro influence of Kit Watkins in his Sunstruck period at work throughout in a structural sense. This is an enjoyable journey of shifting moods and ever-changing emotions, one can only imagine the panoramic imagery that this was created to accompany. Maybe someday they will release it... - Peter Thelen, Exposé

Some distant waves, which switch shapes for icy breezes, and the very ethereal voice of Anneli Andersson, who murmurs pleasantly some more or less suggestive panting, are opening the very panoramic dimension of "As I Passed the Vyartsilya Border Crossing". Tribal percussions and layers of synth in the tones of the 90’s infiltrate under this carpet of voice and of breezes, pushing the rhythmic structure of the title which overturns quite slowly into these electronic rocks weakened by a New Age approach that even Tangerine Dream has never managed to remodel in these years where the EM style flirted with the very Easy Listening genre in order to get through the waves of the Californian FM radios. And nevertheless, "As I Passed the Vyartsilya Border Crossing" gives the kick-off to an album which lets us perplexed, both by its beauty and by its mosaic of styles which amazes and seduces all along the sonic odyssey of Johan Agebjörn and Ögren Mikael. Written within the framework of a soundtrack (which is still unreleased) for a road movie filmed by Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren during a journey that both accomplices made in the Republic of Karelia, now Finland, and native land of Johan Agebjörn’s grandfather, “We Never Came to the White Sea” is of a surprising freshness which unties the cords of the snobbery in consideration of a style to another one.
"Motor Stop, 6km to Suoyarvi" is one of those small phases of ambiences of the cold nights of Russia which abound all around the 10 tracks of this album and establish this climate of ice-cold nights where hoots a symphony of wolves. Tears and sighs! Circles of ice on a freezing pond that a huge finger tickles and voices of cherubs passed on by an old transistor, "The Lights of Lakhkolampi Pass By" gets rid of this oneiric intro to offer a heavy bouncy structure which glitters of these techno of the 90’s. The duels between the lines of harmonies and the sound effects of a psychedelic world on a heavy and humming rhythm tore the style in that time between the melody of the airs which flew away with the lightness to seduce and the cacophony of the rhythms. And it’s idem here! Between ambiences bluish by layers of wintry, where shiver some chords in suspension, and a heavy rhythm, the synth stays in a very attractive mode with harmonies which remain in the repertoire of Tangerine Dream in the Miramar years. And we stay in the very acceptable candy pink cuteness! "0:55 In Matkaselkya" changes things with an approach of dark atmospheres where the percussive effects frolic in the mirrors of their echoes. A delicate voice of Elf lays a strange quietness which seems so paranormal while an intensity wanders without reaching a climax, playing rather on the shadows and the effects to give a rather crepuscular dimension to the music. Here, as everywhere in “We Never Came to the White Sea”, the synths have a great tone and develop layers, effects but also solos and lines of harmonies which always manage to seduce. And the voice of Anneli Andersson is always so heady. "Relentless Rain Over Ladoga" brings us into Robert Schroeder's territories with an electronic rhythm, a kind of Berlin School, is guided by good very juicy sequences and others more in Techno Dance mode. Arpeggios flutter around under the resounding convulsions of the heavy booms-booms while the orchestrations are as much catchy and flying as those which livened the good titles of dance in the 70’s. "Aurora Over Odega" is a remix of a Tommy' 86 music piece that the duet plays here with a heaviness as smothering than sensual. The rhythm is heavy and intense with samplings of Sally Schapiro’s voice, for a long time accomplice of Johan Agebjörn, on a great slow dance knotted around some rather poignant orchestrations. "Four Hours to Karhumäki" follows with a good electronic rock which is decorated of good effects, one would say a ski gliding on a hard snow, and others, especially at the level of the percussions, structuring a tempo which gives the impression of running after its breath. There are good dramatic effects around this title which sparkles at the rate of its stroboscopic sequences. "Sunset in Vodlozerski" amazes by its the approach of Jazz and Lounge. Without words, the voice of Anneli Andersson is always to make the ices melt. "The Rajakarjala Forests" proposes a linear structure mounted on a structure of rhythm heavy and lively with steady pulsations which get eaten away by strange effects of cawing. Still here, the effects of percussions are very effective and give an additional weight to the numerous charms of this 1st collaboration between both Swedish musicians. The effect of the violin, played by Anders Frostin, adds a tribal touch of the Middle East rather special to this track of which the roots are soaking into an Electronica of a the psybient kind. Violin which breathes just as much in "Sleepless on the Kostomuksha-Petrozavodsk Night Train" which ends “We Never Came to the White Sea” on a rather colorful note where the rhythms and the ambiences get torn with less violence than in "The Lights of Lakhkolampi Pass By". I adore when I fall on something totally unexpected! And it’s exactly the case here … A very beautiful album.

- Sylvain Lupari, Synth & Sequences

By fashioning We Never Came To The White Sea as an “original soundtrack to an unreleased road movie of the same name,” Swedish artists Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren devised a novel way to make their collaborative project more interesting than had they simply issued it as a set of instrumentals devoid of narrative content. And said movie isn't a conceit: one actually was filmed in Russian Karelia (formerly Finland), the birthplace of Agebjörn's grandfather, and with all ten track titles referencing site-specific locations, the album plays like a travelogue spiriting the listener through the snowy landscapes of Northern Russia near the eastern border of Finland. In keeping with its concept, tracks are often animated by propulsive rhythms, which both gives the music strong momentum and turns it into a distinctive ambient-techno hybrid.

Adding to that distinctiveness are a small number of inspired choices. Ethereal vocals by Sally Shapiro and Anneli Andersson appear (samples in Shapiro's case), and Anders Frostin contributes viola playing to the concluding two tracks. While the album never feels less than contemporary in its overall sound and production values, there's an undeniable retro feel present, not to mention a nostalgic dimension that emerges when certain moments evoke the ‘90s rave scene.

Listeners of a certain age might be reminded of both Pete Namlook and Laurie Anderson when the haunting overture “As I Passed the Vyartsilya Border Crossing” eases the album in with Andersson's “O Superman”-styled vocal accents and delicate synthesizer sequencer patterns—a deeply atmospheric and full-scale production of cinematic scope that bodes well for the journey ahead. The forward motion initiated by the opener carries over into “The Lights of Lakhkolampi Pass By,” where a beat pattern suggestive of early Warp-styled electronica is slathered with heavy doses of ‘90s-styled synth melodies. Nocturnal sojourns through wintry landscapes form part of the itinerary, resulting in brooding set-pieces like “0:55 In Matkaselkya” and “Sleepless On The Kostomuksha-Petrozavodsk Night Train.”
Field recording details sometimes thread their way into the mix, a case in point “Relentless Rain Over Ladoga,” which blossoms from its rain-soaked beginnings into a full-blown trance-techno production replete with throbbing synth melodies and a pumping, bass-powered groove. Perpetuating its vibe is “Aurora Over Odega,” Agebjörn and Ögren's remix of a Tommy ‘86 track, which aligns Shapiro's sultry voice to a resplendent blend of vocoderized vocals, wailing synths, and heavy, downtempo drumming. As We Never Came To The White Sea moves into its final chapters, a softer, twilight ambiance sets in to signify the journey's imminent end. To that end, “Sunset in Vodlozerski” makes for a soothing come-down after the album's propulsive middle section, after which Frostin's viola playing enlivens the subdued acid-techno pulse flowing through “The Rajakarjala Forests.” Throughout this polished full-length, Agebjörn and Ögren lavish each track with circumspect detail, resulting in a release whose ten parts hold up effectively as high-quality stand-alones but also come together to make a powerful cumulative impression.

- Ron Schepper, Textura

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