by amy – November 2, 2014 in Music
This nineth studio album by Ulver shows them experimenting once again, this time with 60’s psychedelic rock. Childhood’s End: Lost and Found From The Age of Aquarius is an hour-long collection of 16 cover songs by obscure psychedelic rock groups from England and the United States. Before hearing this album I was unfamiliar with the original groups except for Jefferson Airplane, of which Ulver has done a brilliant cover of Today – arguably the best song on the album.
On the cover is a famous photo that came out of the Vietnam War. What significance this photo bears in regards to the album is not clear to me. The photo poignantly conveys the devastating effect of war, but seems to have little in common with the actual subject matter of the songs. My guess is that it’s an homage to the memory of the 60’s, perhaps carrying with it a note of melancholy or nostalgia.
Garm’s voice shines exceptionally on this release. He embraces the chorus-oriented rock style of the genre with its light mood and sometimes playful lyrics. In doing this he casts aside the brooding shroud of mystery and profundity that has often characterized Ulver’s music. It’s appealing to hear him adopt the attitude and charisma of a rock singer comfortable with the stage. There is even some seductive hip-shaking on numbers like 66-5-4-3-2-1. It makes me smile to hear Garm singing, “If ever you need me, baby, there’s a number that you can call, it’s double 6, 5-4-3-2-1, yeah I’ll be there and I’ll be on my own, ’cause I know what you want.” Many of the songs are a sweet, short length of 2-3 minutes long, which makes me more compelled to throw the album on any time of the day. As another review aptly described it, this album is sunny and infectious.
What I truly adore about this release is the magical shimmer that envelopes it from beginning to end. This shimmer comes through the feedback, reverb and other swirling production effects that put the “psychedelic” in psychedelic rock, and it also comes across in the lyrical mysticism (take, for example the titles of I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night, Lament of The Astral Cowboy, and Magic Hollow.
It’s difficult to describe in words the richness of the sounds on this album. I’ve been told that my music taste is characterized by a great number of layers. Indeed, this is the aspect of this album that charms me. Garm’s vocals are often multitracked, with the individual tracks being varied in key (as he’s done many a time before), and this works well to fill in acapella sections in the original songs. And, as any fan of Ulver’s prior work can attest, they also love layering other instruments to add richness, density and complexity. This is why psychedelic rock and Ulver make a beautiful combination. The simple song structures and short song format make Ulver’s avant garde tendencies more palatable. It’s as if by restricting themselves to the original song format, which they do faithfully, they have condensed their talent for vocals and sound production into little bottles of magic. Their headiness and abstract experimental tendencies are thus reigned in, allowing the straightforward sincerity of the original artists’ approach to shine forth. The lighter, honest mood of psych rock becomes them. When listening to The Moody Blues, I was always impressed by the positive way that feelings of all kinds, whether they were hope, love, or melancholy, were communicated plainly and simply, untainted by ego or unnecessary abstraction. The words were written and sung in a down-to-earth, heartfelt way. Garm does a fantastic job of delivering the lyrics in a way that remains true to the artist, and he often surpasses the original, his voice carrying that regalness and tonal depth that is so sweet to the ear.
These 60’s songs sound so fresh and original with polished new recordings and all that Ulver have tastefully added. The rich, deep production and Garm’s inspired vocals take one by the hand down memory lane, and it’s an eye-opening journey. I imagine them pulling these songs out of an old box in the attic, brushing them off, and discovering rare, forgotten gems. As Garm reveals in an interview, he grew up with this music, and so on this album he got to play a genre he secretly loves. He hoped to open the door for people to discover how much more the 60’s had to offer besides The Doors. This album has certainly done that for me. With Childhood’s End, Ulver have successfully rekindled the magic of a lost era in rock history.