The first song on the new Alog album Amateur is titled "Son Of King" and it might be one of my favorite songs of the year. On the track, the duo takes sample percussion and repeated vocal phrases by a variety of different people and filter and gate them, turning the rhythmic noises into a six-minute track that's completely hypnotic and just begs for repeated listening. It's the first of many on the album that find the group working with slightly new ways of recording, and although the album rarely reaches those dizzying heights again, it's clear that these young Norwegians keep pushing forward with their unique sounds.
In order to challenge themselves, the duo travelled around the west coast of Norway with a couple friends, stopping along the way at various music schools and recording tracks with whatever instruments they could find at each one (and in some cases constructing new ones). The result is a release that has things in common with their past efforts (including their most recent Miniatures), but as the title suggests this release has a slightly more varied and improvised quality that sets it apart from their other work.
And diverse it is. Just about every track on the release tries out some slightly new ideas and most of them work. "The Beginner" is over six minutes of droning, repeating loops of chimes and various other undistinguishable instruments that slowly unfolds into something quite stunning. "The Future Of Norwegian Wood" tromps along with very, very sparse, groaning percussive noises and stuttering splats before locking into an ending section that has quiet chanted vocals and murky synths. It sounds like some sort of weird soundtrack to a creepy Euro B-movie, but that's also what makes it successful.
The perfect example of just how odd the album is comes near the end, with the one-two punch of "Exit Virtuoso" and "Bedlam Emblem." The former is a quiet piece of gorgeous filtered bells and hand percussion, while the latter is a slowly-unfurling beast of sound that eventually locks into a loose rhythm while spitting out sprays of textural electronics. As mentioned above, there are several songs on the release that will most likely have you hitting the skip button just about every time they come on, including the near-silence of "Sleeping Instruments" and the free-improv of "The Learning Curve" (which, if you've listened to any amount of improvisational music, you've heard something like it). Much more inconsistent than their previous outings, Amateur has some amazing highs and rather bland and unflattering lows, but is still worth seeking out if you're a fan of their past work.