BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa
Big Shadow Montana
LP HMS 020

April 2011

     Brought into being by collaborators BJ Nilsen (Benny Jonas Nilsen of Sweden) and Stilluppsteypa (Icelandic duo Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson and Helgi Thorsson), Big Shadow Montana spreads forty-five minutes of potent electronic alchemy across two twelve-inch vinyl sides. The material is a hallucinogen disguised in aural form reminiscent of the similarly tripped-out travelogues produced by an act such as Coil.
     The opening minutes are certainly spooky enough, as ghostly apparitions cross the spiritual divide to whisper incantations in one's ear. Deepening the gloomy ambiance, bell clankings and wavering bass tones lend the material a dirge-like air as its death march unspools in seeming slow-motion. A moment of quiet allows field recordings of a distantly ringing cash register and phone dial to be heard, until the material is smothered under broad smears of haze until it once again abruptly stops, clearing a path for organ playing to appear as ostensible accompaniment for further nightmarish tendrils. The music's anaolgue synthesizer dimension grows more overt in the closing minutes when flickering patterns pulsate, their abrupt cessation signaling the side's end. Despite the regular shifts that occur, the side's material is more smooth than jarring, and the listener relaxes as the calming effect induced by the trio's dreamscaping takes hold.
     Side two initially feels like the earth exhaling, until the synthesizers take over, spreading lava-like smolder across the terrain and gradually morphing into a blinding drone within which all manner of faint life-forms can be glimpsed. Distorted voices bob to the surface, followed inexplicably by a waltz-like musical episode that moves jauntily across the stage. The appearance of such straightforward content can't help but provoke an eyebrow raise or two when the material is so resolutely unconventional otherwise—which is not to say that such an intrusion is unwelcome. If anything, the episode suggests some degree of kinship between the three creators and pioneering synthesizer artists such as Cluster and Klaus Schulze. Regardless of whatever precursors Big Shadow Montana calls to mind, it's a thoroughly captivating journey from which one's attention never strays.