n5md base the concept of their label around the mantra “emotional experiments in music.” Last year saw the release of their most emotional recording yet, Last Days’ epic Sea album. That collection of affecting compositions contained all of the hallmarks of n5md’s individuality. Fast forward to 2007 and now Time Is On My Side by Swedish electronic composer Tobias Lilja reinforces n5md’s commitment to music that is just that step ahead in terms of emotional intensity and creativity.
Lilja has created a sprawling album based around the concepts of time, choices and, longing. Having spent two years studying sound engineering, Lilja was disillusioned with the boundaries of technical sound perfection. Time Is On My Side is his response to those barriers, a deeply emotive album that evokes images of decay and degeneration. Most importantly, though, this album is upfront and extremely intimate.
The most startling aspect of Time Is On My Side is the way Lilja has incorporated his voice into the compositions, creating a feeling similar to “Bachelorette”-period Bjork. A soundtrack of crumbling beats, static-soaked sounds and desolate melodies backs his hypnotic voice. Opening number “A Ruthless Beast” sounds expansive, yet there’s a real feeling of isolation and claustrophobia, with Lilja remarking “Am I tied up or am I clinging on?” over and over. Indeed, this album is a mass of contradictions: it’s dark yet shards of light seem to break their way through all the gothic gloom, it’s bleak yet incredibly beautiful in parts.
“Blood Tracer” is a prime example of this, initially enveloping the listener with a sense of remoteness. Dead-end beats collide with one another, almost like an almighty storm, as Lilja’s multi-tracked voice, once again, becomes the focal point. This near nine-minute mini-opera explodes beautifully towards the end, though, culminating in a stunning mix of ethereal female vocals with despairing synths.
“Beginner’s Optimism,” is another standout with a repeating cycle of strained orchestral sounds and suppressed electronics. The beats seem to escalate euphorically, before subsiding into a mass of drones and filtered vocals, with Lilja again asking “Am I tied up or am I clinging on?”
Lyrical themes are important to Time Is On My Side, while the titles of some tracks (“A Settlement Of Dust, “Gas of Forgiveness”) reinforce the sense of controlled despair. The latter allows desolate sounds to assemble ominously, while Lilja informs us he “slept like a king.” Tracks like this bear some resemblance to some of the darker moments on Thom Yorke’s The Eraser opus.
Time Is On My Side is the first important album of 2007. It is constantly interesting, grabbing you with a vice-like grip, suffocating the listener with each of the 11 apocalyptic compositions. At times its bleakness seems relentless, but a subtle melody or a dim string passage breaks its way through now and again, conveying a sense of hope. It is not until the last static-drenched strains of “To Be Thought Of” that you can pause for thought. Lilja’s brooding vocals ensures that this album is thoroughly captivating throughout. A constantly evocative and deeply personal recorded document, Time Is On My Side is an outstanding achievement for Tobias Lilja and an excellent find for the ever-impressive n5md.
Written by Michael Henaghan.