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Wednesday, May 15, 2019
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Exactly three years after the release of the debut album Orgelhuset, Swedish duo Hymnambulae returned with their sophomore full length album, Nausikaa. Hymnambulae is a project by the siblings Åsa and Pär Boström, who both run the small yet very fine label Hypnagoga Press. And it is their own label that also released this second studio recording under the Hymnambulae moniker. Purely informative: Pär also acts under monikers like Cities Last Broadcast, Kammarheit or Aindulmedir, and he’s part of e.g. Altarmang or the universal C.C.C. line-up (aka Cryo Chamber Collaboration).

I am very ‘happy’ (yeah, whatever, as if happiness is an emotion that reflects on me…) – no, seriously, because I did like the Hymnambulae debut very intensively (link to my review: see below), I was pleased to notice that these twins had a second album. It is called Nausikaa, which refers to the ancient Greek epic Odyssey by Homer (or Ulysses, if you want to). Nausicaä was the daughter of royals (a princess she was indeed), especially honoured for her natural beauty in combination with characteristics like determination, affability, kindness and charm.

This princess has been subject to many poems, paintings, songs and more. There’s even an asteroid named after this mythological figure. Which brings me easily to another ‘worship’ for princess Nausicaä: a musical reinterpretation via Hymnambulae inspired by modernistic / surreal poet / essayist Karl Ivan Loe aka Gunnar Ekelöf. Actually, this album contains lots of voice recordings by this Swedish writer (licensed, by the way, by Sveriges Radio), who’s ‘ writer’s career’ actually started as translator (the latter being purely informative).

As said, this album, which clocks – unfortunately – less than half an hour, was recorded over a period of several years (2016 - 2018). Nausikaa is available via the label of both artists involves, Hypnagoga Press. There were versions on tape and vinyl, both of them have been sold out because of a very limited pressing. Evidently there is a digitally downloadable version available, and one on compact disc too. Though, the latter too is extremely limited (200 copies), packaged as four-panel digipack, with a black-and-white picture of the original Swedish author on the cover. And for those interested: the mastering duties are courtesy of no one else but Simon Heath, the guy behind e.g. Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun, and the owner of the magisterial Dark Ambient label Cryo Chamber (several of Pär’s recordings are part of this label’s roster).

With this album, and I sort of stole this quote, the project continue to seek a vocabulary for the innermost and a deciphering of liminal spaces. The better part is created around long-stretched, floating and hypnotizing soundwaves, slow and repetitive, yet ritualistic and somehow meditative too. It’s actually a rich palette of synth layers, some droning, others astral, electroacoustic or ethereal. With patience, many new aspects get revealed, then again thrown back into the naked essence of transcendental ambience.

In its bare form, the whole comes with a certain minimalistic, unadorned effluence. I think that is a grandiose characteristic, a typifying approach, for it does focus on a vision of infinity, emptiness, endlessness and, at the same time, limitations. Yet from sonic point of view – and this gets clearer and clearer after several listens – you’ll notice a certain richness in sound and atmosphere, subtly hidden, almost secretly processed, yet truly fertile, enriching. It magnifies the esoteric, mysterious, mystic quality.

The vocal samples, well, you might like it, or you do not. It needs endurance, and I have to admit that my lack of the Swedish language gives me a feeling of disturbance, for I do want to understand these messages somehow. Then again, it does give the whole that mysterious, and unique (!), nucleus. And in combination with the empoisoning melodies, the outcome impresses.

Nausikaa is a very unique piece. From its sonic side, it dwells within spheres of introvert, melancholic, moody and ethereal tragedy and majesty. A piece like Den Hypnagoga, based on a sad piano melody, shows the introspective attitude of Hymnambulae’s latest effort. But the total experience, and then I am talking about the instrumentation, the vocal samples, the equilibrium in between coldness and warmth (believe me, for this is so remarkable, and therefor simply magnificent), the hidden depth of each single composition, and so on, well, it just needs endurance and persuasion, but it might convince, and it will daze…