What’s to like?
Chants would be a fine thing. The Kscope label continues to widen the diversity of its artists, with the addition of Jonathan Hultén to the roster, and his debut album on which he writes and performs everything. Inspired by a capella folk traditions, and it’s a welcome opportunity to step back from the strife of the world and reflect a little more closely on our own personal well-being.
The low down
Chances are that I might have missed out on this album if it hadn’t been released by the Kscope label. With so much music on offer these days, and everyone clamouring for your ears, it can become exhausting trying to pick and choose. Happily, my habit of automatically purchasing every new Kscope release spares me a lot of that time and indecision, and continues to broaden my appreciation of music.
And it would have been my loss, if Chants From Another Place had passed me by. I’m completely unfamiliar with Jonathan Hultén’s background, which is not a bad thing in itself, as I sat down to the album with no expectations. Forty minutes later I felt remarkably at peace, and a lifetime away from the stress and uncertainty going on in the outside world.
However, this is not chill-out music in the sense of conventional ambient music and electronica. Rather, the music has a more natural feel to it and the listener can quickly connect to the melodies and sparse instruments, while the music allows you to take a step away from the outside world, pause and catch your breath.
Much of that natural feel is down to Hultén performing all the music himself, apart from a brief contribution of drums on one song. The seeds of the music come from Hulten’s voice and his singing colours everything else you hear. He has a charismatic voice, strong when it needs to be and yet sensitive and soulful during the quieter passages. His inspiration comes from a capella folk traditions and church choir compositions, and he has also acknowledged the influence of artists such as Nick Drake and John Martyn, as well as more contemporary musicians such as Hexvessel. (The music also reminded me of fellow Kscope artists Leafblade.)
Backing instruments revolve around acoustic guitars and piano, with a peppering of synthesiser chords for added effect and presence. The arrangements for the instruments are subtle and framed around the lyrics, but there are also a couple of purely instrumental pieces where Hulten stretches out as a musician, and offers some nice interludes in between the songs. The effect can be both calming and gently uplifting, and reminds me of the early works of Popol Vuh. The album as a whole has that early seventies feel of experimentation using organic instruments, and a nice touch of reverb to the mix which opens up the sound to create the ambience of a church or a wood. The album’s artwork, also drawn by Hultén enhances this vibe.
And yet it still feels like a contemporary album, made for these times. Hultén describes the album as “an inward journey and only time can tell which places will be visited under its duration. It is a tale of spiritual death and rebirth.” What with the coronavirus currently spreading its tendrils around the world, and society fragmenting into pockets of isolation and fear, the arrival of this album feels strangely apt as a way of reconnecting with what makes us who we are.
It would be easy to over-analyse the music on Chants From Another Place, but ultimately self-defeating. It’s an album where you simply accept it on face value, and sink into the music for forty minutes, and hopefully come out the other end feeling a little more connected with yourself. Or as Hultén himself sings on the track Wasteland:
“We must learn what it’s like to stand firm through dark nights.”