Album Review: Silje Nes – Opticks




So much face value description of Silje Nes’ newest album, Opticks, will sound like you’ve heard it before. A Norwegian, female, multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter who fuses classical music training and gentle acoustic guitar with some experimental tendencies. That could be a description of Hanne Hukkelberg. Considering some of the more electronic aspects of Nes’ new disc, it’s easy to jump from Norway to Iceland, finding the quirky revision of traditional instruments in Iceland’s Múm. But that’s not at all: There are touches of fellow Fat Cat labelmates Sigur Rós and Animal Collective, as well. All that said, this isn’t a pile of influences and comparisons. It’s an album with it’s own strongly beating heart.

“The Glass Harp” begins the journey into the warm cocoon that Opticks becomes. A simple, thrumming, finger-picked acoustic guitar line churns outward, fret scraping recorded with every change, a reminder of the home-spun recordings on her last disc, Ames Room. There’s something to the droning nature of the guitar, combined with the sweet, lithe melody that echoes Animal Collective’s Campfire Songs era. The difference, though, is that Nes pulls off the charming vocals much better than the AC, without the dissonance they do pull off so well.

Later, “Silver/Blue” is a spooky, lilting tune based again around a droning guitar line, this time with lyrics about frost and dirt. It’s chilling, like a brisk wind that wakes you up on a dark morning. “The Shades”, which may be the album’s best track, unfolds in repeated guitar lines and clap/click percussion. Warbling waves of synthy plinks flutter outwards, butterflies set to flight, while washes of beautiful vocal harmonies dominate the landscape. The vocals are too stretched, too wafting to easily pick out lyrics, but, the lyrics don’t seem to be the point throughout the record. They’re regularly obtuse, intensely personal, leaving so much to the imagination. There’s a great deal of comfort in the music, but the vocals are just distant enough to keep a mystery to things.

Lead single “Crystals” tumbles outward, plucked violin, light drums, and acoustic guitar building a pastoral world for Nes’ breathy vocals to roam through. Occasional synth clouds float by, adding some whimsy to the scene. Next, “Branches” opens with those same plucked violins melding from chaotic, seemingly random patterns into a fluttering background for the strumming guitar that follows. The album just sounds natural, flows together on consistent sounds and themes, its own world floating into the world it’s heard in. “Hello Luminance” is the perfect example of this, as well as Nes’ ability to make poly-textured, intensely musical songs that still manage to sound simple.

It’s so easy to pick out all of those aforementioned reference-points, but it’s never aping things too closely or too shamelessly. Everything comes together into it’s own distinct world, a whole, separate world apart from any other. It encapsulates every season, every landscape, every pace. Opticks may not get the recognition a disc by any of those reference-points would, but it certainly deserves to.