It’s easy to applaud acts brave enough to explore music in a place beyond tradition and genre, where all music, all sounds and styles are fair game as the building blocks for new, exploratory forms. Maybe we shine the spot light on such artists because the mainstream is so full of conformity and loves bowing down to narrow traditions of what is acceptable and what is not. And it is right that such artists should be singled out for such acts of bravery. But Anja Garbarek has been making albums this way for over a quarter of a century yet hasn’t yet, I feel, received the praise that she deserves. Though it comes as no surprise that names such as Mark Hollis and Steven Wilson have cropped up as small parts of the story too.
The Road is Just a Surface is a concept album, if we are still calling them that, the narrative of someone caught in a maze of their own emotions, exploring dreams and mental disorder, a very real world issue being exploring through a very otherworld scenario. And if that all seems a bit heavy on the listener, musically it is anything but. This is an album built from surreal pop and melancholic melody, slightly wonky and wonderfully a bit broken but highly accessible and full of charm too. Songs like The Witness blurring the line between a strange circus tune and late night ambient pop and tracks such as Confessional Memories wandering into swirling avant gardening, fantastic and slightly whimsical. Pop with a PhD? Absolutely.