Swedish band Muxika77’s third release, Death and the Magpie, is a difficult album to describe: there are eight songs, each one different from the rest. The overall sound of the album is both vocally and instrumentally layered–each song contains so many instruments that I don’t think I even caught all of them. Listening to Death and the Magpie is unlike anything else; it’s an experimental experience, where each track serves as a unique excursion on the journey.
The album starts off eerie-sounding with guitar quaking and screechy noises in “Agelstern Varwe.” After about a minute, the song transitions into a calmer instrumentation with what sounds like a steel-stringed guitar, an instrument often used throughout. A drumset accompanies the guitar, and Krantz’s voice joins the mix. Frontman Johan Krantz’s effortless tenor voice has tonal qualities similar to the lead singer of Fleet Foxes, yet deeper and darker. Harmonic background vocals pop in and out of the track. A collection of wonderfully ominous baritone “oh”s (also seen elsewhere: “B.Y.F.M.,” “Resan,” “Scythe, Pilatus”) splits the long track into two. Spanish-inspired guitar rhythms enter immediately after the “oh”s. The instrumentation eventually transitions into being more orchestral-heavy with multiple beautiful violins and other string instruments. The more than eight-minute-long song is nothing less than the first stretch of a journey in another world: the world of Muxika77.
The next few excursions on the trip, “B.Y.F.M.,” “Corvidae Necklace,” and “Resan” are less complex than “Agelstern Varwe,” but that does not mean that they are at all simple. “B.Y.F.M.” pairs the banjo with the violin, which makes this track’s instrumentation rather melancholic. “Corvidae Necklace” picks up at the chorus, but in general maintains a slower pace and a simpler sound. Fittingly, “Corvidae” is a term that refers to the family of birds containing crows, ravens, and rooks, etc.; the first lyric is, “I asked a blackbird to teach me/ And I listened closely when she spoke.”
“Resan,” Swedish for “trip,” takes its listeners on quite a spanish-inspired trip by highlighting both Krantz’s amazing voice and the steel-stringed guitar that sounds very flamenco-esque when accompanied by rhythmic clapping. One of my favorite moments from “Resan” is a soft moment accompanied by gentle strums of the guitar, where Krantz sings, “Goodbye for now./ We are set free.” Then the dark baritone “oh”s take over.
“Löftet, for Fardoe” is my favorite song off the album. The piano is the primary instrument for this song, although other elements such as percussion, strings and the electric guitar round out the instrumentation. The song itself has this wonderful circus-like guitar rhythm that comes at the chorus and keeps the song playful. The lyrics at the chorus are also really fun: “ We’ll keep singing / we’ll keep dancing / we’ll keep drinking.” And then, out of nowhere, a squealing guitar disrupts us midway through the song. It also repeats later on. The guitar serves as a type of antivenom that keeps the playfulness in check. Afterall, an album entitled Death and the Magpie can’t get too light.
“Scythe, Pilatus” closes out the album. Unlike the other tracks, this one begins with brass, including multiple trumpets, which echo throughout the song. Besides the intermittent brass, a pristine piano is the track’s main form of accompaniment. Pilatus is a majestic mountain in Central Switzerland, and this song sounds peaceful like a mountain, until the electric guitar explodes the track in a very rock & roll way. Those awesome deep baritone “oh’”s then close out the album.
Death And The Magpie is an experience unlike any other. Even in my explanation, I feel I fall too short. The only thing I can really say is listen and take the journey for yourself. Muxika77 will surprise you.–Krisann Janowitz