For a musician who usually takes a studious approach to making records, Casper Clausen’s new album ‘Better Way’ (available via City Slang from January 9th) could almost be seen as a rush release. As one of the core members of Efterklang, the Danish experimental pop explorers, he was last heard just over a year ago on the band’s stripped back alt. rock gem ‘Altid Sammen’ and now, a mere 15 months on, comes his first solo effort.
Unsurprisingly for such a meticulous songwriter, ‘Better Way’ bears no resemblance to any hastily assembled effort stitched together during the lockdown void. Conceived between band tours (remember them) and then refined over time in his studio in the Portuguese city of Almada, Clausen’s new record shines with an intent to dazzle and make a lasting impression. It maintains the experimental edge and devotion to lush soundscapes associated with Efterklang music but ‘Better Way’ leans more towards layered electronica and more elusive structures. It’s a direction that comes from Casper’s collaboration with Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3, who mixed and co-produced the album, a more fluid approach that he says was ‘trying to capture an intuition rather than a fully composed song’.
The album’s hurtling opener ‘Used to Think’ snatches up that license to stretch out immediately. Driven by a ticking krautrock rhythm, staccato synths and pitched vocal samples, it’s a track that lifts off to a place where a reformed Spizz Energi meets a cantering LCD Soundsystem. Clausen’s voice is as immaculately pitched as ever, low and yearning for starters then leaping nimbly to those top notes for the A-ha powered finale. Motoring along for over 8 minutes Casper acknowledges the song’s nod to the sprawling mechanic beats of Spacemen 3’s ‘Big City’ but here he takes that template and injects it with some sure footed pop zip.
That same anthemic danceability steers the album’s penultimate cut, the future facing ‘8 Bit Human’. Here pumping electronic rhythms criss-cross with other percussive flavours to give the song a bounce as agile as the best Hot Chip with a post punk bass underbelly. After a serious psychedelic breakdown in the middle section, all reversed sounds and dislocated voices. ‘8 Bit Human’ stutters back to its feet before sprinting to a close in swirl of chanted phrases and rising intensity for a hallmark Sonic Boom/Spacemen 3 crescendo.
Clausen describes ‘Better Way’ as revolving around hopes and fears or as he says ‘loving stronger, falling harder’. So there is a carefully assembled balance of light and shade that runs through the whole album. Songs like ‘Dark Heart’ with its tense circling strings and broken beats or the ominous slow stomp of ‘Snow White’, explore the shadowy side of life. On the flipside ‘Falling Apart Like You’ and ‘Little Words’ lighten the atmosphere with their lilting world rhythms, buoyant arrangements and Casper’s pristine, expressive vocal upfront. It’s this yin and yang interaction, between and often within the songs, that gives ‘Better Way’ a fascination and depth that echoes back to those tantalising Babybird albums from the 80’s.
‘Ocean Waves’ closes the record calmly, bringing a sense of contentment that reflects Clausen’s connection to the coastal setting that was home to album. Although a simple melody holds the song together, there’s a filmic soundtrack that ebbs and flows as the tune unfolds. Shimmering strings, hushed- vocal phrases and tingling electronics surround Casper’s deep croon before the song curls up on itself and rests. It’s a gentle resolution to a record of hope and sparkle that’s destined to endure through these difficult times – and that’s some achievement.