When Saints Go Machine are a hard band to pin down, four young men doing things with electro pop that no one has done before. The Danish four-piece formed in 2007 — Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild (vocals), Jonas Kenton (keyboards), Simon Muschinsky (keyboards) and Silas Moldenhawer (drums) — are a complicated mix of influences. There’s dance music in there, for sure, but also post punk, some experimental electronica in the Aphex Twin mould, and, crucially, a healthy dose of pop. You could describe the end result as a heady mix of Caribou, The Knife/Fever Ray and Arthur Russell. But, really, it doesn’t sound like anything else out there.
The band’s debut album, ‘Konkylie’ from 2011 sees them moving their sound on into new, uncharted territory. On ‘Parix’, Nikolaj’s spectral vocals, a mix of Antony Heggarty’s tremulous falsetto and Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis, are pitched against a shimmering mirage of synths. There’s an echo of their clubland past on ‘Kelly’, which is underpinned by a chugging, mid-paced beat. It’s the jumping off point for four-minutes of electro pop perfection, like Empire Of The Sun with some added Scandinavian cool. Nikolaj’s vocals, meanwhile, are never more beautiful that on the closing track ‘Add Ends’, where they float over skillfully orchestrated strings and gently popping electronics. It’s an atmospheric reverie that transports you to another place. All told, it’s stunning stuff, esoteric, yet instantly accessible, the kind of underground record that everyone can buy into.
One of the things that sets When Saints Go Machine apart from their peers is that there’s a warmth to ‘Konkylie’. Electronic music can sometimes sound rectilinear, like a Cubist painting. It was something the band were keen to avoid. They went to great lengths to inject an organic feel into the record, experimenting with new recording techniques and locations.
The band make no apologies for the fact that ‘Konkylie’ is a dense, at times complicated record. It’s partly down to the fact that they’ve spent a lot of time on it. “If you spend two years on 11 songs then there will be a lot of detail and strange sounds in there,” confirms Nikolaj. But it’s also a product of the four members different music influences. “Our musical backgrounds are so different from each other. Jonas and Silas are from a clubby background and they still make house and techno together as Kenton Slash Demon; Simon’s is jazz and neo soul; and I’m somewhere in between, ’60s and ’70s breaks, bands like Broadcast and The Slits and White Noise. That’s why there are so many elements in there — dance, post- punk, classical. But it’s hard to pick out tracks and connect them to one particular song. I think that’s a good thing.” True enough.