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Delirium Portraits: by Tobias Lilja

img  Tobias Fischer

Like Bradford Cox of Atlas Sound, Scandinavian singer/producer Tobias Lilja has a way of delivering lyrics through a semi-conscious veil to conjure feelings of emotional vacancy. Most of Delirium Portraits sounds as if it was recorded in a bedroom late at night on a chilly winter evening. Listless vocals waft indecipherably over sparse electronic beds of radio frequencies, buzzing synths, and hypnosis-inducing repetitions part dance-music, part druggy haze.

Delirium Portraits begins with “Spineless,” a mix of Thomas Newman-y film score minimalism and lo-fi electronica that falls somewhere between the sounds of Postal Service, James Blake and Radiohead’s King of Limbs. Like much of the album’s pieces, the song’s mellow head-nod inducing music—more atmosphere than pop song—reels you in with pleasant repetitions, then slowly casts you out to sift through your own daydreams. On “North,” phrases like “deranged penguins” emerge from nearly indecipherable lyrics over ping-ponging beats and Thom York-esque harmonies, momentarily drawing you out of the music’s dreamlike reverie before descending back into hypnotic layers of beats and distant synths.

For the most part, Lilja’s vocals are left free of effects, contrasting sharply against beds of reverb-y electronic timbres and synth drum sounds. The effect is a sound at once intimate and disconnected. In “All Ears,” a lovely dream-like song fragment, Lilja warbles quiet, seemingly nonsensical lyrics over a gently arpeggiated piano and disjointed radio sounds. The instrumental “Ellen’s Theme” is a deftly performed blend of slow piano plinking over sustained electro-pads, conjuring images of quiet winter nights while maintaining an endearing child-like quality, making for a powerfully nostalgic sound both warm and hauntingly vacant.

Throughout, it’s clear that Lilja is a producer first and a songwriter second. Delirium Portraits illustrates the musician’s uncanny ability to use space and sparse texture to leave the listener with a meditative sense of disconnection. If one were to remove the quietly buzzing electronics, you’d be largely left with four-to-the-floor bass drum thuds and keyboard-driven songs with little in the way of harmonic changes or discernable melodies. “These Bells” and “Morocco,” for example, are haunting drone pieces that sits at the intersection of Indian raga and early nineties dance electronica. Even “Birthday Cake,” arguable the album’s most “active” composition—and its closest to a verse/chorus template—has a floating, stream-of-conscious feel, where vocals alternate with churning synth lines and Kraftwerk-like dance beats.

The manner in which Tobias Lilja colors those minimalistic song sketches, however—with hushed singing, and quiet layers of manipulated sounds—makes for a powerful set of psychological miniatures charged with the intimacy of a bedroom recording while eliciting strong pangs of emptiness.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Tobias Lilja
Homepage: n5MD Recordings

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