It’s not everyday you see an album cover boasting a tapir, which might lead you to believe that The Rainfall Years’ Ramifications is an album of eccentric, perhaps even whimsical pop. And you’d know you were wrong within the album’s first 30 seconds, as a poignant oboe-like melody threads its way through shivering guitars and sparse, brittle percussion. It’s a lonely sound, bringing with it impressions of ivy-covered church ruins, autumnal walks through mist-enshrouded pastoral stretches, and the craggy sea cliffs and barren windswept beaches of the group’s native Denmark.
The most obvious touchstone here would be David Sylvian, primarily Sylvian’s earlier, 4AD-tinged works such as Secrets of the Beehive. Like Sylvian, the duo of Jesper Kruse and Lars Skaaning blend evocative, highly atmospheric music with poetic-yet-cryptic lyrics dripping with melancholy imagery and lush male vocals. But the duo also departs noticeably from Sylvian’s sound. Sylvian never quite got as dark or noisy as The Rainfall Years do here at times, the darkness in his music often softened by the smoothness and richness of his voice.
Neither Kruse nor Skaaning, who share vocal duties on the album, have a voice quite as smooth or strong as Sylvian. Which means that their voices get lost at times, almost swallowed up by the album’s atmospherics. Dark, looming clouds and harsh noises emerge from time to time. At moments like these, the vocals almost seem like an afterthought because the music is so strong, striking a fine balance between ambience and pop, using the strengths of both with none of the weaknesses.
However, the primary thing I continually notice about Ramifications is how quickly these songs slip through my fingers once the album is over. I’ve been listening to Ramifications fairly regularly over the past couple of weeks, but if you were to ask me to highlight a favorite track or moment when I didn’t have the CD in front of me, I don’t know if I could. But I’m not so sure that’s a weakness of the album.
It’s obvious that Ramifications is an album carefully and intricately constructed — the duo spent a year in preparation before writing and recording the album — with an obvious attention to detail. There are any number of delicate, subtle nuances throughout the album — lush piano and crystalline tones, dreamlike lyrical musings, gentle horn flourishes, delicately picked acoustic guitars, ghostly choirs, etc.
But the album ultimately remains ephemeral. I know that, once the album is over, it’ll likely fade from my mind, leaving just an impression, a ghost of a memory. But this actually adds to its melancholy nature. It also has the added benefit of making each listen both new and hauntingly familiar. I find myself settling into these songs very easily and comfortably, allowing them to wrap their rainy day atmospherics and haunting threads around me completely, if only for a short time.