Immersive electro-acoustic trio Splashgirl (Andreas Stensland Lowe, keyboards; Jo Berger Myhre, bass/guitar/electronics; Andreas Lonmo Knudsrod, drums/percussion) was the first act to sign to the Hubro label, with the group’s second album as a unit, ‘Arbor’, marking the label’s debut in 2009. Since then, each subsequent release has deepened and strengthened the developing Splashgirl sound, from ‘Pressure’ (2011) and ‘’Field Day Rituals’ (2013) to ‘Hibernation’ (2015).
With the arrival of a sixth album, which continues the band’s relationship with the inspirational Seattle-based engineer/musician Randall Dunn, famed for his work with Earth and Sunn O))), it’s evident that Splashgirl has reached the end of one span of creativity and begun to enter another, ascending to a whole new level. For ’Sixth Sense’ is a breakthrough project characterised by a radical freedom of approach to composition and performance. At times, the results can seem closer to the sculptural manipulation of pure sound than to the workaday norms of more conventional music-making. The wonderfully immanent, in-your-face sonic density of the album’s mile-wide dynamic range also represents a remarkably successful attempt to capture the extremes of the audio spectrum. In short, ‘Sixth Sense’ sounds immense.
But if Splashgirl’s journey from piano, bass and drums post-jazz trio to out-there experimentalists might seem all but complete, the delicate interplay of acoustic instruments continues to perform a vital role. It’s an interplay that opens and closes ’Sixth Sense’, whose circular structure departs from, and returns to, a predominantly acoustic sound-world. Minimalistic plinky-plonk piano, thrumming double bass and splashy drums and cymbals become the jumping-off points for further sonic adventures to be explored through both live improvisation and post-production treatments, with any musical statement remaining essentially provisional until finally fixed – caught in the net – by the editing process. These signature sounds and their electronic manipulations are also to be heard alongside a myriad of musical influences, from musique concrete and leftfield post-rock to cinematic echoes of all sorts of things: ‘Blade Runner’-like retro-futurism, say; the pre-digital electric-fusion of ‘Black Market’-era Weather Report; synth-driven Tangerine Dream-style Krautrock. The result is a thrilling suite of seven separate pieces that can be listened to either incrementally or as one long-form work where the sheer density of sound and gradual accretion of meaning seems to deepen the longer it goes on, achieving by the end a kind of hard-won epic grandeur that is very impressive, moving even. The range of Splashgirl’s influences and reference points, and the tastefulness with which they have been chosen and employed, also serve to reinforce the sense that there’s a real creative intelligence at work here, and that the listener can relax with confidence into whatever new journey they are being taken on. There might be no clear destination in view. But it will definitely be interesting.
‘Sixth Sense’ was partly recorded in Iceland by Randall Dunn, at the same 2015 sessions that produced ‘Hibernation’, and partly by Splashgirl at the trio’s self-built studio in Oslo, in March, 2017. The album was mixed by Johnny Skalleberg at Amper Tone, Oslo, and mastered by Espen Høydalsvik at Tinnitus Mastering, Oslo.