Efterklang is one of those rare groups that I honestly feel like I should enjoy a lot more than I do. They have male and female singers and blend organic and electronic music in unique ways while taking chances with song structure while still managing to keep touch with a pop aesthetic. Essentially, they have all the pieces in place, and after a debut full length (Tripper) that showed off some real moments of promise, their Under Giant Trees EP seemed to find them turning the corner and really combining their unique talents for a release that seemed on the cusp of something great.
And so once again, after listening to Parades, I'm a bit mystified. It's certainly bigger than their last releases, including the aforementioned recent EP, but at the same time it doesn't really feel like the group has moved much beyond the better moments of that release. It's a bit difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why the group leaves me feeling this way, but I think that part of the problem is that the expanding sound of the group has pushed them into a few corners.
In explaining the above, I'll say again that Parades is certainly the biggest-sounding release that the group has put together to date, and it finally sounds like the work of a large ensemble with a slew of instrumentation and some massive songs that pay off in big ways at times. Opener "Polygyne" weaves through almost seven minutes of strings, choral vocals, drums, programmed beats, piano, woodwinds, and electronics, and the result is a sprawling epic that keeps revealing new sounds as it goes. The same can be said for the six-minute "Horseback Tenors," which sounds like the work of a mini-orchestra with big drums, choral vocals, horns, strings, guitars, and electronics all marching forth like theme music for a field battalion.
Now, the problem with these bigger sounds is that while the group still manages some nice dynamic shifts, there's nothing like the quivering tension of early songs like "Prey And Predator" or "Step Aside." The larger ensemble seems a bit more unwieldy, telegraphing their musical shifts and going for bombast more than subtlety. With most tracks taking on the feel of sweeping epics, Parades loses some of it's well-honed pomp simply by pulling the same trick over and over again. Of course, the group throws me a bone by turning the second half of album-closer "Cutting Ice To Snow" into more of a romping sing-along, and it feels like something that the group could have used a bit more of earlier and often. Like the title suggests, this album is grand in many ways, but the sheen also wears off somewhat quickly at the same time.