Completely unexpected and striking slowcore pop vapors from Ellen Arkbro, who teams up with renowned Swedish pianist Johan Graden for an album of delicately downtempo songs led by Arkbro's emotional, smoky vocals. RIYL Stina Nordenstam, Jessica Bailiff, Low, Movietone, Emiliana Torrini.
If you heard Ellen Arkbro's chilly 2017 debut "For Organ and Brass", you'll know how confounding the Swedish composer's music can be. Like her friends and contemporaries Kali Malone and Maria W Horn, Arkbro is able to bring an unexpected level of warmth and humanity to music that deals with heady, academic themes. "I get along without you very well" features Johan Graden, an in-demand pianist who's currently based in Amman, making for an unusual set of pop songs that might surprise Arkbro's regular listeners.
An active member of the Jordanian experimental pop scene, Graden brings an uncomplicated, soothing weightlessness to his playing that immediately draws you in. 'Close' wheezes calmly, with breathy woodwind wisping over plucked high register double bass and cautious organ groans, but it's Arkbro's voice that's the revelation here: comforting and assured, it lightly cuts through the delicate instrumentation. The closest parallels might be Susanna Wallumrød's expertly sedated avant-pop or Jessica Bailiff's euphoric half-speed smolders - Arkbro and Graden sound similarly driven by loose-but-technical lounge jazz modalities and narcotic early '00s indie ooze.
The duo continue in this groove guided by an effortless charm that speaks to the power of their friendship. The more melancholy moments - like 'Out of luck' or the brassy 'Temple' - balance the atmosphere with Arkbro's levitational magic. Her vocals are powerfully present - never hesitant or shy, but calm, collected and oddly tactile. When she does lean in, as she does on the piano-led 'Other side', she sounds as if she's singing into a close mic in an intimate cabaret, as a spotlight picks out the detail from the room's omnipresent mist. Her voice is delicately imperfect, cracking as she intones and reminding us of the human splendor that's present when you step away from digital precision. Lovely.