With expansive studio albums and captivating live shows, it’s safe to say that Spurv have left an indelible impression on the international post-rock scene over the past decade. This Norwegian sextet has released 3 stellar albums thus far, but their new record Brefjære opens up a whole new dimension in terms of composition, musicianship, scope and production. Brefjære combines the orchestral grandeur of MONO with the wistful textures of This Will Destroy You and the Scandinavian mysticism of Sigur Rós. An oratorio for a world in despair with which Spurv redefine the boundaries of symphonic rock and post-rock, finding beauty and solace in the intersection of time, nature, history, and humanity.
“I recently moved to Tromsø in the far north above the polar circle,” says main-songwriter Gustav Jørgen Pedersen about the origins of Brefjære. “One day I looked out the window where I see the mountains and the birch trees and I found myself wondering, if they could speak, what would they be telling each other?” Thus, a mythical conversation between the wind, a mountain, a birch tree and a butterfly was born inspired by classical traditions such as Greek tragedies and the oratorios of the Baroque, but also by the musical journey of Spurv itself. “This album contains elements even from before we started Spurv back in 2011. Some of these ideas I’ve been working on for over 10 years” continues Pedersen, divulging how Brefjære is a result of a decade-long process as much as a contemporary snapshot.
“We don’t want to be ephemeral like the mayfly”, says Pedersen about the artistic intent of Spurv. “We want to make music that lasts—our music should be both intricate and immediate. This is a balance which I find a lot in classical music, and likewise every Spurv album until now has been a step towards achieving that balance.” Having gathered an impressive collection of high-profile performers from the Norwegian classical music scene, the band has taken a grand stride in expanding their musical palette, but also in creating an immersive and gripping work of art. Listening to Brefjære is an incredible experience on its own, as the effortless combination of rock instrumentation, string sections, brass and choirs surround you with an intricately choreographed interplay of carefully knitted musical references.
«Krokete, rettskafen» opens with a string section performed by Norwegian Grammy Award-winning string players Kari Rønnekleiv and Ole-Henrik Moe (also known for playing with Ulver and Motorpsycho). Like an orchestra tuning their instruments for a Bach Orchestral Suite, the duo emulates the crooked birch tree swaying in the wind before the song stately transitions into the humble overture of the birch tree, represented by the fourteen-piece choir. «En brennende vogn over jordet» is a heavy post-rock anthem that leads you along winding mountain paths and past dangerous ledges to find rest in the pasture of a beautiful violin solo by Norwegian Grammy Award-winning musician Inger Hannisdal. Meanwhile «Under himmelhelvingen» juxtaposes the frailty and brevity of the male solo voice against the eternal droning notes of string and brass sections to create a sense of shifting time frames. An effect which is repeated throughout the album, notably on «Til en by vår» and «Urdråpene».
Overall, Brefjære is an exercise in reconsiling postmodern relativity and genre-bending with classical composition techniques. The way the vibraphone arpeggios ebb and flow behind the fast-chugging guitars to slowly lead up to the final theme on «En brennende bogn over jordet» testifies to a dynamic sensitivity that is unseen in this kind of music. Likewise, the way the bass completely has its own life on «Som skyer» shows Pedersen’s approach to his bandmates’ parts is closer to that of an orchestra than a rock band. In fact, the moments in which instruments play in unison are quite rare throughout Brefjære, but when they do, for example on the thunderous main theme of «Til en ny vår», it is to full effect.
Being a collection of four monologues, Brefjære isn’t as much of a conversation in the sense of an exchange of sentences as it is a conversation in the academic sense, in which the conversation takes place in the exchange of ideas. Across eight songs these four characters, represented by choirs or soloists, each hold their own monologue in the Norwegian tongue, commenting on their own realities as well as their interrelatedness in rich poetry. From the frailty of the peppered moth dancing with the wind to the birch tree quenching its thirst in the bowels of the mountain, a dynamic sense of shifting time scales and relations is conveyed which finds its reflection in the music.
Pedersen likens the recording process at Paradiso Studios in Oslo to a workshop rather than a rock band working in the studio. “A great number of players were involved in the creation and the only stable factor in that process was producer Jørgen Smådal Larsen. In fact, I don’t think there has been one moment in which the whole band was present in the studio at the same time, so he is defnitely the person who has been holding it all together.” The level of intricacy on Brefjære is breathtaking and seemingly matches the architecture of cathedrals and concert halls in which many oratorios used to be performed. With Pedersen as the architect and Larsen as the master builder, the four characters of Brefjære appear as four pillars on which this impressive building is rested.
From its immaculate conception during an unsuspecting gaze out of the window to the extensive process of its creation, Brefjære is a work of art that brings together the temporal and the eternal both in music and in poetry, revealing the universal truth that we are all equally everlasting and equally ephemeral. From the humble solo vocal performances against huge droning notes of «Under himmelhelvingen» and «Å vente er å endre» to the magnificent celestial melodies of «Som skyer» and «Til en ny vår» Brefjære touches fleetingly and eternally on that imperishable quality that Spurv are dying to bring with their music. A sonic saga for the ages.