Stockholm based singer / songwriter Ester Ideskog, otherwise known as VANBOT, has undoubtedly produced the most striking album of her career following the comparatively conventional offerings of ‘Vanbot’ and ‘Perfect Storm’.
‘Siberia’ is the result of a 17 day journey on the Trans-Siberian railway, recorded by Ideskog with collaborators Johannes Berglund and Petter Winnberg while cooped up in a small carriage compartment with just battery operated technology for company. Out in the wilderness, largely away from civilisation, the musical adventure captures extreme and expansive landscapes from Moscow to China via Mongolia with a roaming atmospheric ambience. Embracing the technological limitations, the threesome purposefully made no additional recordings upon their return to Sweden to the resultant album, naturally titled ‘Siberia’.
With constant motion and new locations looming throughout, most of the tracks have been subtitled according to the location of their conception. It begins with an incessant drum machine as the train departs for ‘Not That Kind (Moscow)’. Sparse and steadfast, haunting female and male voices chill across the airy soundscape. And with the dreamy percussive collage of ‘Stay With Me (Perm)’ that follows, it is evidence that ‘Siberia’ is not a straightforward pop album but one that is dictated by the mood of its surroundings.
‘Yekaterinburg’ is a beautiful instrumental recalling the work of Norwegian duo FROST with lo-fi organ sounds and processed voice samples, the gentle clattering symbolising the move into a new continent on the city’s Eurasian border. Meanwhile, ‘On the Fly (Omsk)’ takes the journey into South-Western Siberia where the mood is gloomier. Omsk is said to be one of the saddest places in Russia and the track’s sombre aura certainly reflects that.
The crystalline ‘Collide (Krasnoyarsk)’ sees a more obvious Nordic influence creeping into proceedings and compared to the tracks before, it is more song based as the pace picks up with some gorgeous melodies too.
‘Hard to Get Used To (Baikal)’ sees the rhythms take a breather as the sight of the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake brings in an early GOLDFRAPP influence; Ideskog filters her whispers ‘Felt Mountain’ style as a ukulele plucks away in the background.
The fabulous oddball percussive template of ‘Fiction (Listvyanka)’ is made even stranger by a cacophony of pitched up vocals and distorted bass synths for a wonderfully cerebral experience. ‘Louder (Ulan-Ude)’ featuring a duet with Petter Winnberg is close to being a conventional ballad as the train treads the rails towards the sparser landscapes of Mongolia.
‘On Wasted (Terelj)’ evokes the area’s vast rocky landscape with a breathy awe, while an unexpected uptempo mood change on ‘Close Enough (Ulan Bator)’ recalls IAMAMIWHOAMI as the train speeds up and trances towards the album’s conclusion as Ideskog repeatedly chants “I can’t get closer now”.
To close ‘Siberia’, the ambience of ‘Stuck In Between (Yak – Moscow Airport)’ reflects the frustration of the transfer to get home with acoustic guitar and a slow arpeggio. The haunting synth layers are gently hypnotic while bursts of hissy noise are used inventively as a backbone without being obtrusive.
Most importantly, ‘Siberia’ is accessible, an example of how experimentation doesn’t have to be wholly uncompromising and can include melody. Like I AM SNOW ANGEL from the shores of Lake Placid, VANBOT is quietly subversive.
Those who favour her previous ROBYN-esque sound will be surprised or even shocked, but for Ester Ideskog, the third VANBOT album will sow the seed to establish her as an artist of worth for the future.
‘Siberia’ is released by Lisch Recordings in vinyl LP and digital fomats
Text by Chi Ming Lai
7th April 2017