One of the most compelling things about Danish synthpop troupe Efterklang is how synesthetic their music is. If you go back to albums like Parades and Magic Chairs, the band was capable of a highly-advanced level of aesthetic command to the point where their music was too vibrant to remain in the auditory realm, manifesting bright visions of beautiful color. This kind of trickery is common in neoclassical pop, but the way that that pair of albums was able to do it seemed like it wasn’t just magic, it was part of who they were as people.

Altid Sammen, the band’s first album since 2012’s Piramida, does what fans expected from them at this point: instead of chasing the grandiosity of their early career, it burrows inwards. The album is almost totally crescendo-less. The band’s cinematic spark is a mere afterthought, appearing as a special treat in places; opener “Vi er uendelig” and closer “Hold mine hænder” both tease that release. In the case of the former, it seems like it was almost done to help teach that those outbursts are cheap tools for evoking emotion. This isn’t to say there’s never a release. The moment halfway through “Supertanker” where the guitars come in is one of the most baller prog rock moves you could ask for. But here, it feels more like a tactical weapon than something to be taken for granted.

All of this results in Altid feeling more like the labor of a small handful of musicians and not an entire orchestra, giving the band a chance to make something far more personal. They’re able to render new beauty out of these compositions—the crystalline beats of “I dine øjne” and the dreampop wash of “Verden forsvinder” are addictive. The extent to which the lyrics match the personal is hazy—this is the band’s first to be sung entirely in their native Danish—but this gives frontperson Casper Clausen the chance to operate, at least to non-Danish listeners, as just another instrument, an asset considering how stripped-back the record is.

The approach reveals a level of talent that could be easy to miss when heard only amidst the maelstrom that made their previous albums so satisfying. This isn’t to say that this version of the band isn’t satisfying, however: quite the contrary, it feels less like a tonal shift for the band than the most logical conclusion after a seven-year hiatus. Piramida took steps in this direction, with the darker arrangements and more somber tones, but Altid Sammin is the boldest move they could have made. The downside to all of this, though, is that Altid is often little more than a gorgeous album, the lack of highs or even very many distinct beats making it hard to hold onto anything in the arrangements. Beauty is Efterklang’s strong suit, but it makes one wish they’d left a little more meat on the bone.

Altid Sammin’s approach to retooling the band’s sound is promising, but longtime listeners might find themselves frustrated by the fact that it seems like a stepping stone on the way toward whatever they do with their next album. Even still, that they’re able to make something this gorgeous despite its faults makes the album an impressive misstep, and ultimately a forgivable one.

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