Swedish electronic artist Johan Agebjörn’s latest album Notes is being labelled as an ambient record, which is a bit of a misnomer. While influenced by the spacey soundscapes of Berlin School electronica, Notes is full of intricate arrangements and complicated, melancholic melodies that make the album more about songs than tone.
Notes is at its best when it’s atmospheric and instrumental. Songs that keep the vocals front and centre, like “The Leftovers,” detract from the album’s best traits. The lyrics also leave something to be desired. But this album isn’t about lyrics, and when Agebjörn stays instrumental (“The Right to Play”) or uses the vocals as an intangible instrument (“You Passed Through”), the album melds into a blissful, shapeless whole.
Agebjörn occasionally mixes classical instrumentation with his synths, which never feels gimmicky. The same can’t be said for the overused ambient music cliché of layering nature sounds between tracks. But when it works (which is most of the time), Notes is a beautifully hypnotic record.
Published in Volume 69, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 14, 2015)