huge thanks to Stephen Deusner and the entire Pitchfork staff!
(Fat Cat Records)
The first sound you hear on Silje Nes' debut album, Ames Room, is an ascending cascade of gulps, like water pouring out of a jug. In proper pitch, they could be a factory setting on a keyboard, but Nes (first name pronounced seel-YAH) modifies them slightly to sound more percussive and completely otherworldly. Those gulps appear throughout Ames Room, one of several repeating sounds-- like her shimmery guitar tone and soft vocals, reminiscent of múm's Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir -- that could be one instrument in a more traditional band lineup. But Nes recorded the album by herself in her Bergen apartment (well, almost by herself: Ungdomskulen's Kristian Stockhaus appears on one song), using an array of instruments and equipment, some of which she either found or constructed herself. Creating the album was a solitary pursuit, but unlike many bedroom auteurs who try to make one musician sound like many, Nes crafts music that actually reflects that isolation: Ames Room sounds like it's emanating from deep within her imagination.
Even so, her aesthetic isn't stripped down or lo-fi. Her complexly layered compositions are dense with loops, synths, cello, drums, guitar, and a cacophony of unidentifiable sounds. "Magnetic Moments of Spinning Objects" builds a music-box lullaby against the high, abrasive whir of a rewinding tape. The two elements don't match up, but that may be the point: As muted as Ames Room often is, Nes seems less interested in making pretty sounds than in setting up experiments in conceptual dissonance. Most of the instrumental tracks are shapelessly ambient. "Shapes, Electric" establishes a lulled rhythm from the molten sounds of flute, wordless vocals, acoustic guitars, and what sound like sheep, all coalescing into a percussive time-keeping device that usually sounds like it's perpetually winding down. Similarly, "No Bird Can" closes the album with the sound of Nes blowing simple notes on bottles (presumably), backed by a typewriter clacking away in the next room.
Other tracks on Ames Room are more structured, featuring Nes' ghostly vocals half-submerged in the music and her similarly piecemeal approach to lyrics. "Drown" consists mainly of one line-- "We'll bring the water to the sea once more"-- repeated against spectral guitars, as if she made a tape of turning the phrase over in her head. She crafts an elegant, catchy melody on "Ames Room", the most direct and fully realized song on the album, and "Giant Disguise" grafts her vocals to a snappy guitar line that sounds like a pop riff on cough syrup. With its bouncing momentum and crisp guitars, "Dizzy Street" could be a Clientele song, at least until she starts singing in her strange whisper. Ames Room may be an essay on the possibilities of home recording, but these songs, simultaneously succinct and discursive, portray her more as a pop musician than as a sound tinkerer.