Danish rock quintet Slaraffenland caught the eye of Hometapes in 2006 and released the slow-brewing, rather stunning Private Cinema in late 2007. More than two years later, the fittingly autumnal release We're On Your Side has vestiges of the languid, moody compositions of its predecessor, but far more action, structure, and warm flourishes. The percussion is controlling and downright poppy in places, as with the fast-paced, rollicking opener "Long Gone," which apparently is an announcement that the band is making some changes. The vocals, on this track and elsewhere, follow suit: a major key, clippy enunciation, yet always, as with Cinema, hints of darker emotions thanks to prodding, solitary little lines like "We never saw the trees fall."
The instrumental makeup is the same, but the brass section here is rendered into happier ideas: a welcome party, a triumphal march, or a little exclamation of everything-will-be-okay at the end of a song's bridge, when on Cinema the brass could sound, quite movingly, like heartbreak or strangulation. The band's elegant, shiny production and penchant for unstructured ruminations still has a presence: "Falling Out" is a gorgeous, warm, nearly all-instrumental track that could be a spare cut from Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People.
But this track's fluid structure is only seen in brief segments on the rest of the album; for much of the other tracks, Slaraffenland is experimenting with more traditional time signatures, aching major keys full of resolves, and warm, enveloping drum work. "Postcard" is short, with a unique synthesized drum sound that punches out a rhythm worthy of a machine on an assembly line. The lyrics spell out a long-distance correspondence that starts with the line, "Hey you, it's me again." Too cutesy, maybe, but the song is more complicated than its opening moments: "When I'm back again / I'll make it up to you," it ends, but the assuredness of those lyrics is left in question as the end of the song gets abruptly sliced off.
The next track, the album's strongest, continues to be unsettling, but "Open Your Eyes" displays Slaraffenland's mastery at creating utterly complex worlds within tracks, using a huge spectrum of electronic and acoustic wind and string sounds whose surprisingly cohesive union is reminiscent of Bjork. The band's attempt at catchy pop-rock songs is commendable; their skill as composers allows them to pull it off. When they straddle the new and the old, as on "Stars and Smiles" and "The Right Place," they come off as a colorful, full-orchestra National, which speaks to their well-roundedness, because it also works. But the forest of sounds captured on "Open Your Eyes," and in snippets elsewhere on this album, is what ought to be revisited the most. It will never see radio play, so it's a good thing concerts killed the radio.-liz colville