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REVIEW: Blumen – “Mångata”

Before Mångata, I had heard Blumen‘s music, but admittedly hadn’t followed him closely online. This explains why I didn’t know he had a new EP out until the day of its release, when I saw a targeted ad on Facebook (thanks, algorithms). Searching for some more information, I took a peek at the Facebook page for the multi-instrumentalist to find a cover photo that juxtaposes Richard Blumenthal’s heavily posterized face next to big block text that reads ‘NOT A DJENT BAND’.

Fair enough! Though I regret to inform Blumen that, while he playfully distances himself from the djent label, he also managed to create a project that djents in spirit with its forward-thinking approach. Mångata is his most cinematic and progressive effort yet. Even during minimalist moments, the music is vivid and evocative.

For those that don’t know (including me, I had to google it), ‘mångata’ is a Swedish word that we have no direct translation for in English. According to Wiktionary, it describes the ‘roadlike reflection of moonlight on water’. The cover art is a beautiful representation of this. This word and what it represents works in conjunction with the overarching premise of the music, which is, according to the liner notes on the EP’s Bandcamp page: ‘a nebulous story about somewhat of a journey’.

The first song, “Dawning”, is a short and pensive piano introduction. It’s skeletal and anticipatory. I mentioned earlier that this project is Blumen at his most cinematic, and there’s a couple reasons why. What this EP lacks in lyrics, it makes up for in colorful song description – mini screenplays, if you will. For example, the description for “Dawning”: ‘Impatiently waiting for the sun’s greeting, a mere glimpse of the aurora was ample enough excuse to embark’. These descriptors set the scene for each song in terms of mood, pacing and intensity. With “Dawning” as stripped down as it is, you can practically see the sun splitting the eastern horizon with travelers eager to set off into the unknown. This track acts as a great buildup to the next.

“Murk” leads off with a wild synth solo and high-octane drumming before it scales back a little to make room for the piano. Keys and guitars engage in a playful back-and-forth with occasional overlapping and harmonizing. The guitar and synths here create the most proggy elements of this track, a theme that’s repeated in “Ossycles” and the rest of the EP. “Ossycles” has more of a lounging, relaxed feeling which is a nice contrast to the first track. Gentle percussion from drums and shakers is interlaced with smooth, fluttery piano. It’s moments like this that remind me of something electronic music producer Haywyre would include on something like The Voyage.

After another short piano interlude track, we get into “Squall”, which is arguably the most beautiful song here. “Squall” is bookended with light and emotional piano that sounds like watching the sun and rain cut through a tree canopy. The middle of the track is robust with jazzy drumming and a heavy piano arrangement. The deep notes, coupled with a rapidly changing tempo, create a sense of urgency. “Home”, the final track, is the most upbeat on Mångata. The tone definitely paints a joyous end to a journey. There are nice string flourishes in the song’s introduction, and the rest of the track continues with thick bass guitar, playful synths and sunny piano. It serves as a pleasant ending to a pleasant story.

Through many listens, I could only levy two sizable criticisms at Mångata. The first is with the interlude track, “A Favorable Wind”. While it’s a skeletal piano track much like “Dawning”, it lacks much of the anticipatory qualities and justification that the intro has. With this EP as short as it is, I don’t feel like an interlude was entirely necessary. This song divides the EP’s two halves rather than providing a transition between them. Still, it’s not a blight on the project overall and doesn’t deter as much as an underutilized full-length song would have. My second criticism is that, after repeated listens, the similarities in song structures starts to show, almost to the point of being repetitive.

In retrospect, maybe there was more substance to Blumen‘s distancing from genre labels than I initially thought. Mångata is a clear declaration that his music is not to be hastily placed into any one box. It spans many tones, sounds and moods using a breadth of instruments to create a relatively cohesive project. This EP sounds more varied and fully realized than a lot of professionally produced and exorbitantly budgeted full-lengths without overindulging. This is a fine slice of progressively-minded jazz rock.

 

Score: 8/10

Favorite tracks: “Murk”; “Ossycles”; “Squall”

FFO: John Scofield, Dave Weckl Band, piano-centric Haywyre

Mångata can be purchased (for free!) now on Blumen’s Bandcamp. Be sure to follow him on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

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