Reading the title of Björn Magnusson’s second album Nightclub Music & Ethereal Faith, it seems at first a strange description for this messy tangle of haphazard guitar and dissonant piano. There is nothing on the album approaching the slick, programmed beats of club music, nor the softness that could earn any song the label ‘ethereal’.
And yet this puzzling title captures something of the New York-born, Zürich-based artist’s ability to meld the earthy and physical with the dreamy and surreal. The instrumentation is rough and worn, the discordant elements clustered loosely around a beaten and dilapidated song structure which seems to threaten to collapse in on itself. And yet there’s an otherworldly, liquid beauty that floods every inch of space, the swimming piano and Tapiwa Svosve’s heady saxophone lifting the songs from the grime of 1960s basement jams into the realm of the sublime.
Magnusson opens the record, which follows his 2017 debut, with the murky swamp of Ethereal Faith, before launching into the chugging riff of Hospital Dreams. This single is one of the best showcases of what Magnusson has to offer: a joyful, gravelly rock song, heavily indebted to the proto-punk scene of the 60s and 70s.
The Velvet Underground, in particular, resonate throughout the album, right down to Magnusson’s distant Lou Reed-esque drawl. There are also flickers of Iggy Pop, the Modern Lovers, and even a cover of Suicide’s Ghost Rider, which makes for the eeriest cut on the record. Coarser and barer than the original, Magnusson makes every clanging guitar chord slash like a serrated blade, the stark, rusty soundscape lending a chilling solemnity to the refrain of ‘America is killing its youth’.
Elsewhere, the sound is fuller and brighter. Apocalypse Boogie is exactly what it says on the tin: a dense and dystopian yet buoyant rock and roll number. With hefty piano chords and droning sax, it’s glam rock that’s been eroded until it starts to crumble.
There’s a drunken and drowsy feel to much of the album, from the quirky, off-kilter, jazzy discordance of A Masquerade, The Eternal Jive, to the watery piano that washes through Amsterdam Ave.
Not every song feels fully formed underneath the messy, slap-dash instrumentation. The raucous noise of Hope Lights disguises a fairly unexciting melody. But Magnusson’s greatest strength is the ability to string together disparate, uncoordinated sounds into something coherent. Not necessarily something easy to listen to. But something visceral and textural. Something alive.