[Kristian Harting’s Summer of Crush is out today via Exile on Mainstream. Press play above to stream it in full.]
Almost on a per-song basis, Summer of Crush presents its audience with a lesson in how to capture scope within a solo performance. The album is the second for Copenhagen singer-songwriter Kristian Harting after 2014’s Float, which was also released via respected purveyors of the experimental Exile on Mainstream, and its 12 tracks/35 minutes are simultaneously intimate and grand. That’s rare enough, but Harting is a genuine solo act — he wrote, performed and recorded Summer of Crush entirely on its own, and given the breadth he shows, there’s no option in listening except to read purpose behind each of the turns in style or mood. Foot-pedaled synth and acoustic guitar intertwine with progressive folk without losing emotional resonance, and though a minute-long cut like “Cannibals” comes off minimal in its intent, it furthers the context of the record as a whole, which remains immersive, fluid and engaging, wherever Harting decides to go or is guided by a given track.
Songs feel built in the studio — “Ship of Fools” has percussion, layers synth, atmospheric guitar noise and a bassline — but Harting is never trying to trick his audience into thinking there’s a full band at work. Summer of Crush deftly retains its solo feel and is stronger for it, a solitary mood persistent across two sides constructed for vinyl but united by themes of travel, departure, movement. From the opening duo, “Traveller” [sic] and “Temporary Rooms,” Harting captures a moment as fleeting as the season from which the record takes its name, and as he careens from one piece into the next, it’s in the resolution of the final three tracks that he makes plain the directions he’s taking.
Hell, even the album’s cover brings a compass to mind, and with a heart at the center, it’s true to the nature of Summer of Crush as a whole. Its approach to beauty is unabashed, and as “Traveller” begins with soft acoustic pluck and deeper-mixed shaker, the nod toward complexity is subtle but by no means absent. Harting isn’t through the first song before a Morricone guitar echoes over top his acoustic, but “Temporary Rooms,” with a synth line that feels drawn from the teenage dramas of ’80s New Wave and an echoing low end guitar to match in the style of Angelo Badalamenti circa Twin Peaks — both set to an uptempo drum beat — is an immediate expansion. Harting himself is the unifying theme between the two songs, but he backs himself vocally on the second cut in a way the opener avoided, and sets forth a richness that “White Spirits” continues to build upon with an early drone-folk pulse that later gives way to full-on abrasive noise.
Miraculously, the chorus reemerges, unscathed from that momentary assault, and after a final moment of sweetness, “High High” taps coffeehouse lyrical cleverness and a more forward vocal presence, almost reminding of Michael Gira in Angels of Light during the verses, the second of which has an insistent kind of alarm sound deep under the melodic wash, just enough to be jarring until finally Harting hits the snooze button and lulls the listener back away from consciousness and toward the fuzzier, almost bouncing “I am You 2.” I don’t know if there was a first “I am You,” or if this is it — it wasn’t on Float — but the apparent sequel marries a wall of distorted guitar with a sweet sing-along, reveling in the contrast over a simple, programmed-sounding drum beat as “I am You 2” begins a section of shorter songs that moves forward through “Spirits Revisited,” an answer perhaps to “White Spirits” that gracefully blends noise, low-end synth and post-rock guitar airiness for a brief instrumental, and into “Cannibals,” which draws back the arrangement to a foundation of acoustic guitar and vocals. Like “Traveller” and “Temporary Rooms,” it is no accident that “Spirits Revisited” and “Cannibals” are paired up on the CD, though they’re also where the break in vinyl sides occurs.
There isn’t a single track on Summer of Crush that speaks to the entirety of the album — that is, no one-song summary of the overall scope — but “Ship of Fools” is a highlight anyway for its otherworldly echoing jangle, the intensity of its percussion, the way its synth line brings horns to mind and the edge of judgment in Harting‘s voice as he begins with the lines, “Eightballs of fine white powder/Snake oil and alchemy/Bottles of ancient poison/Portions of sweet honey,” before making a memorable hook out of “I know you know you know I know, you’re gambling/You know I know you know I know, we’re gambling” over a tense bassline and odd spurts of synth. Skillfully, Harting brings “Ship of Fools” to an apex of synthesized wash, and “Digging up Graves” takes hold with soft vocals, bass and far-off backing “ooohs,” but kicks at its midpoint into fuller-thrust bursting that, whether you call it post-punk or black metal, is brilliantly blown-out. Like a dream, it just happens and then is gone.
It cuts out and while one questions the reality of what they just heard, Harting is back to a soft verse like it was nothing, did you hear something? The quiet finish leads the way into the first piece of Summer of Crush‘s closing trio, which as noted, are where Harting notes his directions. Literally. “South North Passage,” “Soul Sister” and “East West Door” are the record’s final movement, and they feel linked in sound as much as the impression of the cardinal navigation with “Soul Sister” at the core, very much like the heart on the cover. “South North Passage” has vocals deep down — maybe recorded the same time as the guitar lead in the second half? — it but unfolds an atmospheric breadth behind a haunting central figure, while “Soul Sister” feels more straightforward from the start, at least within the context of Summer of Crush. Acoustic and dreamy electric guitars meet with keyboards, and a return-t0-earth vocal from Harting is presented in a synth-backed chorus. Near the end, the chorus of “I am You 2” gets a revisit, and as though just in case the album’s underlying symmetry wasn’t laid bare enough, Harting brings back the Morricone ramble in his guitar for “East West Door,” a soft programmed beat behind giving one last sense of motion as Summer of Crush marches to its finish.
Worth noting in summary that as Kristian Harting‘s second album makes its way through these varied realizations, it does so with little to no fullness of self. That is to say, while there’s going to be a certain amount of indulgence in the creative process — it’s a solo record; if there wasn’t, it wouldn’t exist — Summer of Crush is too busy actually being vibrant to revel in its vibrancy. Add to that the fact that it’s such a quick listen front-to-back and that even its longest cut is well under five minutes, and a listener could hardly accuse Harting of being pretentious. Rather, Summer of Crush arrives as the product of a genuinely open, individual creative process, and one that only seems geared toward growth. It is an even more satisfying experience on repeat visits.