The childlike feeling of the first snows of winter.
Producer Elskavon and Pianist John Hayes both share a love of their home state of Minnesota. They have a particular affinity with it in the winter months and this was the initial idea of their collaborative album ‘Du Nord’. The result is an album that celebrates winter, feels like home and evokes a nostalgic tone to every note played in its hazy classical ambience.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that this is not a simple piano-based album at all. There is heavy use of plucked violin, shimmering strings and synths and a mixture of electronic and organic percussion. Between Elskavon and John Hayes, they build up a raft of serene and blustery melodies and then process them through cassette tapes and other filters and effects to warm the tones up. The music feels malleable and motherly in some ways and a love letter to the cool outdoors – often feeling like you are viewing it from a window inside the warm.
Opening the album with single ‘Vermilion’, you hear all of this in full bloom. Veering towards a more percussive electronic state of mind that Four Tet and occasionally Bibio uses, it is a beautiful mix of organic and electronic. The Olafur Arnolds feel is strong too as the album progresses into something more cathartic and laid back. The beauty of the piano melodies of ‘Itasca’ and ‘Refrost’ are buoyed by the plucked violin beats that bump along the happiness and beauty of the music and the geographic story it is telling. The Tim Shiel effects then move to the forefront for the idyllic and peaceful ‘L’etoile’. Gentle tape warping and echoes of guitars and angelic vocal drones effortlessly convey a vast glacier of sunny snow. The microphones capture the room hiss, the piano hammers gently moves and the internal creak of the wood. I felt cleansed after each listen.
Temperature is a character throughout ‘Du Nord’ and the way the music is produced evokes that wintery feel throughout. From the gentle morse code like bleeps in ‘Cold Is Not So Cold’ which make you feel lost against the vast low piano drones to the airy chill of the plinking high registers of ‘Closer’ – Winter is at the heart of it all.
Towards the final third of the album, Elskavon and John Hayes switch gears somewhat. Straight melodies are replaced by drones. The titular track has more in common with Brian Eno as wiry buzz synths scatter and burst around your ears than anything classical. ‘For Myself’ bleeds a piano melody into a hazy drone so you can’t tell where one note stops and the next begins – just like a whiteout. ‘Sougan’ follows a similar vibe but with one of the most satisfying electric piano productions I’ve heard in ages. Hayes is able to balance key weights beautifully to make a magical piece that Elskavon then wraps around a shroud of airy ice bursts.
Perfect for this time of year, ‘Du Nord’ is a beautiful and evocative ambient classical collection. Naturally, you’ll swing towards either the more melodic side or the more ambient haze side of the album but both are suitably wintery and playful in their own way. Now you can experience the great outdoors without leaving your hot water bottle!
Recommended track: Vermilion
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