Klangstof - Godspeed to the Freaks
Romantic tales of a band’s genesis often start modest and wholesome: just a couple of pals in a rehearsal space trying to escape the world for a moment. Out of that comes something elemental, an unseen language that only these individuals can transmit into the world. Well, that hasn’t quite been the tale of Dutch-Norwegian alternative act Klangstof. Not initially, at least. Just a half a decade into their existence as a band, that storybook rise to fame didn’t exactly transpire in the classical sense.
Though creatively fertile, Klangstof’s trajectory up to this point has always been restless and volatile. Count several lineup changes, massive festival shows, an ill-fated major label deal and a pandemic among its many turbulent-but-thrilling chapters. Though it took quite the detour to get there, Koen van de Wardt, Wannes Salomé, and Erik Buschmann finally found their collective identity and essence on upcoming third LP Godspeed to the Freaks.
If the trio’s previous, more electronic-driven LP The Noise You Make Is Silent marked a great escape from turmoil, this record confronts that turmoil head-on. No longer bent on ‘playing it cool’, this new collection of songs are driven by pent-up emotions and long lingering thoughts, an opening of the floodgates so to speak. “I want to be in the eye of the storm,” Van de Wardt sings on “DEATH04”. Part of an ongoing series of numbered ‘writer’s block songs’ called “DEATH”, this track captures the act of pushing through crippling doubt and pesky defense mechanisms. Starting out as a ghostly folk workout, the music gradually takes on a fuller shape, before eclipsing into a volcanic climax that sees all the noise collapsing in on itself.
“We came up with the idea of wearing a mask, something you hide behind from what you actually feel and think, to make yourself look strong,” Van de Wardt comments.“That song is about capturing that whole journey. It almost starts out like some kind of lying, confused little boy. And then you take that mask off and start screaming out loud. To fight your demons, instead of trying to tell yourself everything will be fine. That feeling of: ‘You know what? I'm actually going to face them.”
Just five shows into their tour for The Noise You Make Is Silent, Klangstof were still figuring out their dynamics as an overhauled band. As the pandemic hit, that progress was crudely cut short. But instead of resting on their laurels, the band immediately started writing new material. On the previous record, creating cool sounds often dictated the music’s direction, but this time, it was once again the songwriting that led the way. The bulk of Godspeed to the Freaks was recorded on the West Frisian island of Vlieland in a music venue called De Bolder. Additionally, it marked the first rodeo for guitarist Wouter Van Nienes as a contributing member within the band.
The setting and scenery inspired the foursome to set up all their gear and equipment on the stage and perform the demoed songs more or less as a live band. “The demos are all made in the box in Ableton, because that's how we made The Noise You Make Is Silent,” Salomé comments. “Once we started playing live, we realized that’s something you can’t easily translate.” Remarkably enough, though, recording the songs in just two weeks time was, as Buschmann comments, “smooth sailing”: “Everything went perfect, which was something I have never quite experienced before. It was about our intuïtion and our mutual trust,” he marvels. “Laying down each of these songs summoned the exact same feeling we had after we played a great show, which was maybe one out of five,” Van de Wardt enthuses. “We’d look at each other and all nod: yup, this was awesome.”
The majestic instrumental prologue “Veerman” exudes that sense of embarking on a nautical adventure together, while also quixotically displaying the band’s sonic headspace. The track – named after the hotel where the band slept during the album sessions – was written and recorded as an ode to Vlieland itself. With the absence of tight schedules, outside impulses or other distractions that could deviate the chemistry-building, Klangstof essentially rehearsed, recorded and self-produced the songs simultaneously.
Almost everything, even the liquified beat Buschmann pulls off on “Separated”, sprung from a process of loosely interpreting artificial sounds with human-made sounds. Van de Wardt: “That was so important to us: that when we're on stage live that we know, this is what we can do. This is who we are.” From the hot-blooded synth-pop of “Plastic Gun”, to the fractured, frantic pulse of “Devil’s Lair”, these songs touch on all the stirring feelings that make human relationships complicated. “If you let your feelings run free like that, it's nice to realize that you are alone on an island with your best friends,” Van de Wardt comments. “Instead of in Amsterdam where you have to cycle home and run into people. So I think the story unfolds this way because we were all so isolated.” Additional mixing by engineer Sam Petts-Davies (Radiohead, Frank Ocean) and mastering by producer Heba Kadry (Björk, Slowdive, Big Thief) reinvigorated the songs further in startling fashion.
As a result of fleshing out that urgent live energy into the recordings, there’s a stumbling, sprawling quality to Godspeed to the Freaks that’s endearing, like someone awkwardly starting a sentence before knowing what to actually say. Though the demos were the starting point, Klangstof’s core instincts dictated where the songs could potentially take off, plummeting from one rabbit hole into the next. It explains why, for instance, Van de Wardt took a backseat with the vocals on the shimmery shoegaze of “How I Feel”, accommodating fellow Amsterdam artist Someone’s dulcet delivery.
With the earth-shattering “Sylvia”, Godspeed to the Freaks ends with Klangstof’s most piercing primal scream yet. The song is a touching lamentation of regret, love and comfort towards a close relative in a bind. Indeed, Godspeed to the Freaks is as much about summoning up courage as it is about admitting you’re afraid, relishing in the relief the surges free from that struggle. These songs are thrilling conduits for towering sentiments that would otherwise have been left unspoken. Van de Wardt: “I realized that the more you put of yourself into your music, the better you can process things afterwards.”
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