Skuli Sverisson’s Sad, Beautiful Box Tree Suite
One of the most enchanting albums to come over the transom here in recent months is The Box Tree, the duo collaboration by Skuli Sverisson and Oskar Gudjonsson. The production is muted, echoey and emphasizes the low midrange, enhanced by Gudjonsson’s breathy, cantabile timbre. Sverisson plays elegant, brooding arpeggios, terse chords and melodic lines on acoustic bass with a steady rhythmic pulse, as does Gudjonsson’s tenor sax. It’s a theme and variations, and most of it is very sad and poignant. With lyrics, this would be a haunting folk-rock or art-rock record: one can only imagine what the right singer (Erica Smith? Theo Bleckmann?) could do with this.
The suite has ten parts. It begins on an anthemic, angst-fueled note, then takes on a phantasmagorical edge, almost like the Simpsons theme: catchy, but with a dark undercurrent. It goes more lively and lyrical, the sax dancing around, then Sverisson introdues the fourth movement with an agile solo played baroque guitar-style. From there the duo allude to Mediterranean balladry, then contrast carefree sax with the ominous depths below. They sway through an atmospheric waltz and then take the theme more rubato. By now, the foreshadowing has reached a peak: it’s obvious where this will end. There’s a hint of brightness with a free, improvisatory interlude that has little to do with the main theme, then they revert to the sad anthem before ending on a pretty but utterly crushed note. Whatever you call this – rock, folk, jazz or even chamber music – it screams out quietly for a sequel.
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