Elskavon is the work of Minneapolis native Chris Bartels who runs the Anthem Falls label while also being musically involved in other projects such as Bora York, Hi Fi Cali, Vitamin June and under his own name. Each project allows Bartels the ability to stretch musically and collaborate with other like-minded artists to create anything from Dream Pop to minimalist electronica (parts of which also make up the Elskavon sound palette). “Skylight” is his fourth album under the Elskavon name and the first in four years. The project tentatively started in 2007 with the first release not seeing the light of day until 2012. In that five-year time span demos and compositions were recorded that would plant the seed for the future debut “Movements in Season”, which has been followed by the albums “Release” and “Reveal”.
With “Skylight” Bartels says in regards to influences and methods for the album “Every single song is inspired by a memorable moment in my life – some huge moments, like the birth of my child; some smaller, like the tranquility of exploring the woods with my best friend years ago. I really believe memorable moments that we relive over and over again are so incredibly valuable, and remind us to not miss the potential in the making now – these gifts we can never fully get back, so really living these moments is important.
I embraced imperfections and made a point to step outside my comfort zone in the studio with this album. From hearing the wood floor creek in piano recordings while my family walked around upstairs, sampling in washing machine sounds via iPad, sending synths and vocals to guitar pedals, recording unplugged electric pianos, or using my body as drum triggers, each song was created in a unique way.”
The album starts in a gentle aquatic way with the ambient lines of “Harvest” being constructed by layers of lightly plucked acoustic and electric guitars that appear like tendrils alongside waves of lush synths and snatches of piano. There is a very bright feel to the track, but it is not all crystal clear with the hint of haze or something being covered up. As a stand alone track it is a nice, but when you take it as part of the album a whole, it is almost like a signpost for what is coming ahead.
“Syna” which was the first single released back in September of last year was inspired by using new methods on the studio to reveal a darker, trippier style of music. Pulsing and slightly glitching electronics meet static buzz, orchestral drones, electrical chimes and epic modern classical style strings to form a soundtrack-esque slice of drone based electronica. Fractured beats and the sounds of clacking sticks form the percussion over which a bass line section and string drones are joined by snatches of haunted vocal sections (presumably by Katylin Strasburg )which sound more like a brass instrument. Acoustic guitar joins in to provide an organic element and brings to mind Message to Bears with its fusion with the beats as the drones cascade over everything. Towards the tracks final minute the elements largely drop out leaving the string drones and initially the fractured beats.
“Anthos” opens with delicate rich piano and drones that affix themselves to the end sections of piano. A string section weaves its way in alongside fast strummed guitar and violin which is held back in the mix as not to over power the track. A nice soundtrack-esque piece that acts as am interlude.
“Dusk Line Hills” another single released late last year inspired by witnessing a wildfire in the South Dakota hills begins with an idm feel with scattered beats, Dubby keys, toy piano, oscillating electronics, snatches of dialogue and string drones. The track shows Bartels’ way to strip elements and then start building the track up once more. There is a gentle side to the track that inhabits the second half which if you were to compare to its source of inspiration, could be results of the fires being tamed as opposed to its slightly frantic opening.
“Offers of Peace” fuses granular sound alongside haunting monk like chanting sounds and stark unadorned piano. The piano is the focal point and manages to not fall into this track of being overly melancholic. There is an edge of dustiness to the piano and it is joined by snatches of sounds that flitter about for a brief section. The piano is lightly played and at a laid back pace. Towards the end it appears to be decaying with a change on tone and reveals the natural recordings sound of the instrument.
“Fourstonia” is like a piece of music has been taken through the washing machine, warped and all the sounds have run into each other. A bass drum beat keeps the pace while sounds that are largely indescribable with the exception of guitars, wash across in a techicolour fashion with the appearance of snatches of sound. Casio beats make a brief appearance before reverberating sounds that come across as icy loops that go in and around the music are the focal point of the track .
“Buren Storms” opens with a drone and some synth lines before the throbbing and undulating squeeze box style rhythm starts to emerge from underneath the synth lines and drones. It is in the background to begin with and as it starts to take center stage it is not initially overpowering with layers of an environmental squall quality joining it. As the track heads past the four-minute it starts to lessen in intensity with other elements such as cut up synth sections, icey drones and haunting vocal like melodies join the fray before the music takes a detour in the Caretaker direction before fading out. Without using obvious stylistic cues in the sense of field recordings of storms, you get the same feeling through the music as it goes through the various changes with its ebb and flows.
“Skylight” starts glacial drones, sonic detritus, field recordings of storms, twisting melodies with slight cascading dub techno feel. Piano brings in another layer of sweetness with minimal bass beats, whale song like sounds, home-made IDM style beats and a variety of electronic layers that fill up the sound, but don’t overpower it. There is quite a lot of territory covered on the track as it skirts various genres, but never settling on just one.
“Ennui” you could argue that this track is a pure drone one, but that would be short selling it. The track takes on different manipulated sounds to weave its way through with oscillating sounds, chimes, glitches, dark drones, backwards sounding pieces, intermittent noises all flowing in and around each other. The fluidity allows the track to constantly change tone and sound as lighter elements battle alongside the darker ones and also creates valley and troughs.
“Imagination” the third single from the album is inspired by innocence of youth and riding bikers in the city and exploring the woods with his best friend. The track in a way returns where the opener “Harvest” set the tone with the return of more guitar playing alongside fluid piano lines, arching drones, percussive devices which sound like a giant gong. The guitar playing is rather frantic scratchy plucking alongside gentle flowing piano keys which are at odds with the guitar. The percussive gong like instrument/sound sample ushers in more sound each time it enters the track bringing with a wave of sound. In regards to the innocence and exploration you can see that in music where the piano is the innocense part and the guitar is the exploration part.
Throughout the album Bartels uses different styles of music to keep the listener entertained. Is it Ambient? Electronica? Drone? Post Rock? Modern Classical? Experimental? Well, the answer is yes and no. The tracks can contain all or just some of these genres which allows the music to not be pigeonholed and rewards deeper repeated listening