Forss - Ecclesia
Nine years on from Soulhack, Swedish electronic artist Eric Wahlforss returns with an album that would seem to have rather unexpected origins. The Swede is an agnostic, but he has long been fascinated by religious music. It is telling that the album title, Ecclesia, and the song titles, are all taken from Latin, as the record itself, which only hangs around for 33 minutes, is drenched in atmosphere and a sense of presence. However, this does not mean that it is in any way churchy, sombre or brooding. If anything, it is the exact opposite. Constructed from samples of choirs, strings and organ which were then mixed in with ambient noise and processed to create something new, it is a daring experiment that manages to maintain its sense of gravitas whilst being wonderfully uplifting.
It begins with a scene-setting blast of church bells, and the cacophonous introduction (known as 'Introitus') is quite a misleading one. The stage is set for a record that is loud and brash, but those notions are dispelled within the first 30 seconds of 'Voce Nomen Tuam', which serves as a much more fitting introduction to the world of Ecclesia. It's bass-heavy and contemplative, yes, but is about as far from being weighed down by its own self-importance as it's possible to get, swept along by a skittering beat that lends it an incredibly odd danceability. The collision of two worlds, choral music and electronica - that are the polar opposites of each other - is strange, in the main, but it's responsible for producing some of the most breathtaking music of the year thus far.
The aptly-named 'In Paradisum' moves the album up several gears, the otherworldly atmosphere of the piece leaving the listener unprepared for the profoundly uplifting chorus in which a mass of voices spiral upward in unison; one of those moments that easily sends shivers down spines. This is an album on which space matters as much as sound, with the separate samples all given breathing space. They are combined into a cohesive whole, but every so often one part stands out from the rest, as on 'Diligam', a song on which the bass takes centre stage, providing the surprisingly memorable hook and letting all the other parts build around it. One wouldn't think that music like this would bother with such vulgar things as hooks and choruses, but they are indeed present on Ecclesia, just not in the expected manner.
Penultimate track 'Somnio Somnium' moves through a number of different moods, starting off in an appropriately soothing manner before another inventive beat enters and the song picks up, helping to send off the album in ambitious, multi-layered fashion before the brief closer 'Veniam' closes things in earnest. Forss takes a number of considerable risks on Ecclesia, but all of them pay off, and the result is an album that is incredibly rewarding in rather unexpected ways. Some will say it shouldn't work, but work it does - brilliantly.