Alex Jønsson ‘Heathland’ LP/CD (Self-released) 4/5

For Alex Jønsson’s new album, ‘Heathland’, the sparse windswept grasslands of his native Jutland provide the inspiration. This unique landscape evokes a time forgotten and untouched by human civilisation. Here, nature works quietly in solitude, and the relentless northern winds deter most outsiders. It’s a place Danish guitarist Alex Jønsson knows well, having grown up there like his generations of ancestors before him. Despite the romantic and natural inspiration, ‘Heathland’ is the first album Jønsson plays alongside an electric bass played by Jens Mikkel Madsen.

The soft moments on this album are beautiful in their vulnerability and poetic in their nuance. The fluttering guitar effects on ‘Icicles’ suggest an uncertainty and fragility. Alex’s playing is full of emotion and has a refined maturity beyond his years. His soft string attack adds to the gentle bowed effect. The dynamics on ‘The Sun is Slowly Rising’ are spot on, with overdubbed volume swells and droning tremolo chords. The steady drums of Andreas Skamby invoke an ancient ritualistic performance from the others.

However, the album avoids being one dimensional with the brutish ‘…and Darkness Crept In’ where the band rocks out, employing distortion and wailing octave fuzz. On ‘Re: Herr Sehr Schwer’, the band dazzles with burst of upbeat Americana which grooves with great fluidity. It is a track which provides a bit of light relief and won’t tire after repeated plays. Drummer Andreas’ energetic solo is impassioned and adds an existential Prog-Rock passage when combined with Alex’s eerie harmonic swells.

The album moves away from western tonality for the expressive ‘Paul’. The sounds generated from the musicians give a more intimate ambience and a personal experience. Alex’s plucked playing is purposely unpolished and Andreas’ rimshots and frenetic percussive rolls give this track a distinct timbre.

Ending with the soft ‘Emu’, Alex’s vivid melodies portray a wistful sentiment set in front of the chiming of textured percussion. At first, it seems like a piece without much depth, but the layers of the arrangement and variations appear as the piece progresses. The harmonic movement becomes static, yet the emotion and creativity are upheld through the spirited drumming and stoic bass lines. It is a solemn yet cautiously optimistic end to proceedings.

‘Heathland’ is a thoughtful and experimental work founded on Jønsson’s love for Denmark, but it also shows influence from other musical cultures in the compositions. Alex’s modern and varied approach to his work means even in the delicate of moments the pieces are meaningful.

Fred Neighbour