015 Tobias Hellkvist 'Evolutions'

Cat.No: home n015
Release date: April 9th, 2010
Edition number: 1000 (digipack)

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Release description:
Tobias Hellkvist is a multi-instrumentalist from Sweden. To date he has released two full-length albums, Evolutions being his third.

Whilst much of Tobias work has previously revolved around acoustic guitar elements, Evolutions takes us into denser minimalist textures. That isn’t to say the acoustic elements are absent from Tobias’s latest work, as the subtle use of guitar, zither, accordian and glockenspiel processing throughout the whole album shows. It’s simply that the acoustic elements in Evolutions are more subtly woven into the fabric of the beautiful dirge-like textures.

The Silent Ballet called Tobias ‘one of Sweden’s best kept secrets’. With two limited self-releases to his name, it’s not hard to see why. Tobias’s music is incredibly mature, deep and yet seems to carry an innocent soul with it at the same time. I think it’s probably this that caught me the most when I first heard Evolutions. It’s also very rare to hear such a talented musician, with a keen ear for dense drone structures, to lay open the acoustic elements, never processing them too much, if at all.

So how do I sum up such an album? Is it ambient? Is it drone? Is it folk? Well, truth be told its all of these and so much more. It’s a work of great patience, beauty and gentleness, the archetypal Home Normal release in many ways. With amazing artwork from the highly talented Anna Johansson, it’s an incredible work and a real honour for Home Normal to put out the first widely distributed album by such a talented artist. Let’s just hope he isn’t just one of Sweden’s ‘best kept secrets’ for too much longer.

Composed, performed and produced by Tobias Hellkvist
Artwork by Anna Johansson


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remote_ thoughts
I’ll start by saying that this isn’t just one of my favourite albums on Home Normal, it’s one of my favourite albums of the last year. Sometimes you just hear something that nails it for you and this is very much one of those releases.

Hellkvist’s sound is a lovely combination of the organic and the electronic which gels together to give you a dense, evocative and enchanting collection of ambient tracks. From the opening moments of the first track I could tell this was going to be something special with its chiming sounds and fluttering guitar licks. The simple way it grows and expands sets things up beautifully for rest of the album.

Each piece has a different feel although the overall theme is one of pastoral calm and an intimate sense of melody and texture. From ‘Patience’ with its long, drawn out sounds and shimmering guitar through to the more robust, but no less lovely drones of ‘Arms’ you can really feel the attention to detail and love in every second. You’ll find the drifting soundscapes to be absolutely packed full of life (literally in some cases due to the effortless use of natural field recordings) but never too busy. Everything has its right and proper place, be it a fluttering wind sound, a babbling stream or the sunny and warm chords that extend the pleasure for minutes at a time.

Later on it becomes more overtly drone-based but it never loses that sense of structure or compositional strength that makes it such a compelling album. The last two tracks in particular are just divine with ‘The Ladder’ using a 12 minute period to creep gently into your mind and start playing with your sense of time – did it last for an hour? Or was it 5 minutes? Who knows? All I care about is the journey it took me on for the duration and, my word, it was truly beautiful.

‘Sore’, the final track, delves into a kind of Celer style sound with a refined layer of texture resonating gently until around halfway through when it simply fades out. I thought things were over but then a reprises glides back in and you’re left with a splendid and perfectly realised ending to a tremendous album.

The aforementioned Celer reference certainly holds true and you can definitely hear a musical kinship with Ian Hawgood (appropriately enough) but there’s something else this really reminded me of at times – not necessarily in actual style, but in some of the sound design. An album by Another Fine Day on Beyond Records way back in the mid ‘90s. If you know it at all you may well hear what I’m hearing and if you don’t know it you should go and check it out anyway. Suffice to say it’s one of my favourite albums of all time.

It’s a blissful piece of work that I go back to time and time again and certainly an easy contender for my album of the year. Marvellous.

Mac Nguyen – Silent Ballet
Tobias Hellkvist is one of Sweden’s best kept secrets. Despite his relative newness and consequent limited exposure, one could be forgiven for mistaking the maturity in Hellkvist’s music as indicative of greater longevity than the reality of his time suggests. Eagerly ploughing his way through with two lovely solo full-length releases and a couple of splits in the first two years, Hellkvist resumes productivity with the limited release of his third studio effort, Evolutions, coming shortly after he marked his debut live performance, and is looking hungry to set off another wind of studio prolificacy.

Hellkvist’s choice aesthetic is oddly split in its personality, undecided between the clean, warm acoustic vibrancies of Erik Enocksson or Mice Parade and the laptop-driven ambient persona of Tim Hecker or Mountains. In many ways, Hellkvist sports a similar combination as Graham Richardson’s Last Days but with a much more discrete separation in his polarised stylistic endeavours. Like fellow writer Joe Sannicandro in his review of ‘Sides’, I can no less help myself than to mention and wholeheartedly plug Hellkvist’s acoustic cover of Efterklang’s “Step Aside.” He translates the Danes’ glitch-riddled beats into organic, unplugged arpeggios that not only retain the lovingly crafted, painfully suited context with the delicately carolled vocals, but perhaps even demonstrate a preferable home for them.

The mention of that cover is rather incidental in this case, because Hellkvist almost strips away the acoustic origins of his previous record, Sides, to produce a work that favours where that record left off: in denser, ambient textural territory. “Fresh Start” establishes this right off the bat, delivering a lazy sonic incarnation of its namesake that litters its glittery body with a myriad of broken tones and melodic effects. “Patience” is no misnomer, seeping in faint remnants of his acoustic repertoire to suggest that part of him isn’t gone, and at the very least re-emphasizes the drone/acoustic dichotomy that exists in his offerings. As if not to suggest an abandonment of his acoustic texture, Hellkvist amalgamates it with his diluted drone effects to segue into the rest of the album.

A variety of diverting effects are showcased in abundance: Geiger counter-esque clicks pervade “Scar and Stripes,” a piece that maintains the dense, booming atmosphere of the album; “White Hole” brightly smothers a piano timbre; and “Arms” plays on chamber echoes and lingering metallic resonance. “The Ladder,” the token epic, sports all these characteristics: elongated tones, grazing melodies, and dynamic progression fitting a bell curve. It’s probably as close to a Tim Hecker composed and executed piece as we’re likely to get without having the real thing. And if “The Ladder” is the tribute to Hecker, then deep-pitch, harmonising monotonic “Sore” would almost certainly be the tribute to Stars of the Lid, and Hellkvist even further keeps the influences in order with a nod to William Basinski in the effective bonus track that comes out in the closing two minutes.

The curious thing about Evolutions is that, despite veering away from the electro-acoustic dominance of Sides and sticking to the ambient component, it still very much succumbs to the tides of other structural conventions at no real expense. Dynamics rise and fall, tones ebb and flow, and yet the emotive patterns never seem taunted by technical rigidity. In many ways, Evolutions sees Hellkvist return to the stylistic sensibility of his debut, Transports, which was also predominately a work of laptop abstraction, formless tonality, and fragmented melodies. This time, however, he instills a more aggressive focal intent that subsequently gives a much richer, cohesive presence. 7

Sweden’s Tobias Hellkvist is an ‘ambient’ artist too, but one of an entirely different disposition compared to Santos, as Hellkvist’s third full-length Evolutions makes clear. His is a considerably more natural sound—‘folktronic’ in character and often suggestive of the natural outdoors—that sparkles magically throughout the recording’s fifty-four minutes. Acoustic sounds of guitar, zither, accordion, and glockenspiel are present but so too are processing treatments and dense streams of electronics. In some of the recording’s seven settings, the balance tips in one of the two directions while in others a balance is struck between them. “Fresh Start” presents a splendid kaleidoscope of folktronic sparkle, in contrast to “White Hole” which is more shimmering drone than song setting. The percussive strikes that dominate “Arms” naturally lend it a gamelan feel—before, that is, the elements are almost drowned in a thick cloud of ambient fuzz. “The Ladder” initially hints that it’ll be a field recordings exercise, so suggestive are its ringing bells and clatter of the countryside, but then becomes a crepuscular drone that spreads into an incandescent sun shower so thick it could induce heat stroke. The bucolic acoustic guitar picking combined with an overall tranquility make “Patience” sound like a lost track from Greg Davis’s Arbor, and in fact it wouldn’t be stretching things to describe Evolutions as a sequel of sorts to Davis’s much-admired set. There’s a relaxed assurance about Evolutions that makes it all the more satisfying a listen and that encourages the listener to lie back, content to let the music take him/her where it will.

Boomkat – Album of the Week
Evolutions is the third album from Swedish producer/multi-instrumentalist Tobias Hellkvist, a new artist on the increasingly impressive Home Normal roster. Apparently prior works from Hellkvist were based upon acoustic guitar elements, but here he exhibits a deft command of highly textured, composerly soundscapes. ‘Fresh Start’ introduces the album with a flutter of dulcimer-like tones and a growing cloud of ambience fashioned from various instrumental timbres and some discreet electronic processing. Like a kind of stealthy fanfare this densely constructed piece serves as a great introduction to the sort of delicate, finely poised flow of sonorities that’s to come. Soon, ‘Patience’ arrives with its bitcrushed tones and steel-strung acoustic meanderings, before the altogether less pastoral ‘Scars And Stripes’ billows into earshot. For this track Hellkvist treats sustained piano keyings in a juddering, Tim Hecker-like fashion while ear-caressing glitchy noises bubble away in the corners of the mix. After the washed-out, wintry splendour of ‘White Hole’, ‘Arms’ proves to be rather special, sounding like an eroded tape recording of old clock chimes resonating together – the whole quivering sound mass gradually ascending into a plume of pealing bell clamour. The label’s curator, Ian Hawgood clearly thinks very highly of this record, citing it as “the archetypal Home Normal release in many ways”, and undoubtedly Evolutions is worthy of that praise. Highly recommended.

Harry Towell – Audio Gourmet
Ian Hawgood’s Home Normal label is a trusty port of call for most who are keen on the modern ambient scene as he has a forward thinking music policy and selects works from some of the best sound designers in the world. This is whether they are familiar names like Jason Corder’s Offthesky project or works from Hawgood himself, or whether they are new and emerging names. Tobias Hellkvist is more of an emerging name – at least as far as I am concerned, and here he turns in a solid ambient/sound design albums that is up there with some of the best material to come out on the label. Hellkvist has crafted a truly magnificent album spanning from gentle soundwashes, through lush guitar accents and other instrument manipulations. The album serves up a varied palette of sounds that will keep you interested and likely keep you going back for more helpings for years to come. There’s been a lot of stuff out on Home Normal this month, and in particular, this for me is a ‘must purchase’.

P*Dis / Inpartmaint
1984年生まれのスウェーデン人サウンド・アーティスト/プロデューサーのtobias hellkvistの3rdアルバムがhome normalよりリリース。こ れまでにスコットランドのMetronomesとのスプリットEPをリリースし、idealからリリースするDead Letters Spell Out Dead Wordsとコラボレーションを行っています。彼はマルチ・インストゥルメンタリストでもあり、アコースティック・ギターやピアノなどをプロッセシングし たエレクトロ・アコースティック〜アンビエント・ドローンは、tim hecker、mountainsからstars of the lidなどに並ぶほどのクオリティーを持ったとても美しい作品です。スウェーデン人ヴィジュアル・アーティスト/ミュージシャンのAnna Johanssonがアートワークを担当しています。

Norman Records – Recommendation
Home Normal are cracking ‘em out at the mo. There’s another bunch of releases due over the coming weeks. This week we got two newies and the one I’ve got in my hands is a CD by Tobias Hellkvist. It starts off all pleasantly droney and warm sounding like many other releases sound at the mo. It does develop though as it’s not just your fancy warm drone. There’s some glockenspiel, guitar, zither and accordian all loitering around making perfect sense. Indeed the tracks with more going on are really enjoyable. They’re dense, well constructed pieces of music which will suck you in like a big sucky thing. Bits sounds more processed than others but a lot of it sounds unprocessed and simple on the ear. Textured lovelyness… Shut your eyes and it’s like having a warm hot water bottle jammed into your stomach. Nice!

Music and Happy Life
I’m on my way to spend quality time with my family, and I want to leave my blog chilled and serene. My father’s family name has been Hellkvist (meaning holy twig in swedish) a hundred years ago, so it’s fun to pop up with that unexpectedly.

Deep and evocative stuff, lots of variety and sublime beauty… easy for me to relate. And fresh start is truly what I got, and embrace this yet another chance some would think they don’t deserve but I know better that I’m gonna be worth it.