Kristoffer Nystroms Orkester – Overlook Hotel

Malignant Records (TUMORCD50), 2012

This is an odd duck of an album. Spanning noise, ambient, and post-industrial mayhem, Overlook Hotel has precious little connection to its source material….at least, that’s how it seems on the surface. The product of duo Kristoffer Oustad and Peter Nystrom, collaborating under the moniker Kristoffer Nystroms Orkester, Overlook Hotel is a collection of seemingly improvisational pieces that wouldn’t seem like they’d work together, but they do. You won’t find any samples from Kubrick’s infamous film here, nor any content from Stephen King’s celebrated novel beyond the album’s title, perhaps leading one to wonder exactly how the haunted Overlook fits in to the music.  Maybe it’s up to the listener to make the connection.

Overlook Hotel begins with a short track with a female voice proclaiming “you might find/the night time/the right time” over and over, like a record skipping, with odd synths burbling in the background. The transition to the following track is sudden and jarring; “Cleaning Still Houses” is a pounding barrage of metallic percussion backed by squalling, screeching electric guitar feedback, descending suddenly like a sudden downpour from a clear sky.  KNO has proclaimed itself, defying expectation while guiding the listener through a splintered experience.  Not splintered in a negative way, mind you; while the album leans toward the dark, it’s just more weird than black.

Once “Houses” calms down, we’re next exposed to the thickly accented voice of an old woman telling us a bit of a horror story in “The Tale and the Variation,” before the bizarrely soothing drones and distant pulses of “Industrial Pale Ale” winds through echoes of scraping, flowing water, and assorted rattling.  “Becoming the Green” continues the solitude at first, but out of nowhere, KNO hits us with a buzzing whirlwind of static feedback. We’re left lost and flailing, only to be cast back onto the serene shores of quietude once more.

The percussive/feedback assault is renewed with “Vulgalina Fever”; it’s here where I start wondering if Oustad and Nystrom are giving us their interpretation of the infamous boiler from King’s novel, as well as the cyclone of confusion experienced by the Torrance family amidst the abuse, alcoholism, and dread brought by their snowbound isolation. But once “Helvetesfallet”, with its Scandinavian-language vocal samples (the nature of which I can only guess at), and “It’s A Test,” with its English samples about an experiment concerning the difference between instinct and memory crop up, my brain is taken in another direction entirely.  Who knows, at this point, what KNO is thinking.  “Astronaut 47,” which closes the album with a space-ambient number – someone tell me how this fits into the source material – is a very cool piece of minimalism, with a single repeated drone backed by barely-audible feedback. It’s quite hypnotic and evocative despite its sparseness, and seems to last far longer than its under-five-minute running time.

Overlook Hotel is schizophrenic, eccentric, and eclectic, but it all still seems to fall under the same heading, like a book of haiku of varying subject matter.  It’s a challenging listen, and sometimes an awkward one, but once you get into the flow – no matter how often and how sharply the flow might change – you may very well find this to be an interesting product of experimentalism that changes clothes in admirable fashion.

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