Want to hear a Swedish singer-songwriter that combines the pure and simple art of indie song with high levels of production and a smoky low voice? That’s handy. Albert af Ekenstam - whose debut album Ashes has just been released, and who's been busy supporting Loney Dear in Malmö over the last week – is probably the best person to guide you through that particular corridor of music.
Early champions of Albert have cited Bon Iver as a key influence, though truth be told his music more resembles the work of Justin Vernon’s collaborators and contemporaries, such as S Carey and Nick Mulvey. While Vernon is wrapped up in his gospel blanket, Albert seeks the comfort of an electric guitar. Tracks like ‘The Avenue’ show off Albert’s fundamental song style, and it’s breathtakingly simple.
He is also without doubt a cinematic songwriter – even if he doesn’t intend his music to be set to film. Instrumental tracks ‘1996’ and ‘2006’, which naturally differ wildly in style, both are hugely evocative in their own way, whilst still maintaining that vital simplicity. They paint pictures that beg to be seen. The lush production and ethereal drone that’s so often present in Albert’s music lends itself to the screen too – the way his simple songs are enhanced so much by the choice in instrumentation and recording techniques is reminiscent of singer-songwriter Tom Hickox.
The lead single from Ashes, ‘Made of Gold’ centres itself around a quirky piano accompaniment with Lana Del Rey levels of sustain pedal echo. Melancholy is rife here, and Albert’s voice revels in wallowing in the deep. A simple, sad chorus is swallowed up by layers of synths and chords, washing over you. The fullness of the sound is one of the most appealing features of Albert’s music; without being intrusive, it’s a dense listening experience.
As a singer-songwriter blessed with a deep voice, Albert will undoubtedly carry on his shoulders the same old comparisons – Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits etc. In fact, Albert’s voice contains little splashes of many styles; anything from John Newman, Ben Knox Miller of The Low Anthem and even Chris Martin spring to mind when he opens his mouth. He’s husky, sure, but there’s a soulful twirl there too, an oaky tone with a story.
It’s easy to imagine Albert af Ekenstam becoming a gateway artist for those looking for a way into indie music. A thoroughly honest songwriter, his music is not only wonderfully decipherable but also accessible – it’s downhearted music that still manages to be incredibly easy on the ear. A winning combination, without a shadow of a doubt.