One half of the Icelandic IDM electronic duo Sk/um, Thorsteinn Olafsson has gone in a completely different musical direction on his debut album under the name Prince Valium. Andlaus (meaning "without breath") is a twelve song, fifty-minute journey through cavernous spaces, where guitars and electronics heavy with reverb mingle with occasional programmed beats in a wide-open head space.
Prince Valium has things in common with a lot of other artists working in a similar style, and his downcast creations call to mind the work of Beef Terminal, Yellow6, and other artists who largely use guitar as the melodic centerpiece of their work and then bathe it in effects and atmosphere. Album opener "Mixed State" is all of those things, as a far-off guitar melody drifts through soft ambient drones and some very murky beat hits. It's as if the song is being played on the other side of a valley filled with fog, and making out any fine detail is prohibited because of the distance.
That said, the next song "Following Hearts" comes as an almost complete surprise, as pinging electronics and a watery beat carry more drifting drones while cooing female vocals give the track a pop lean despite the icy instrumentation. Although Olafsson lets his IDM side show through in a couple tracks (most notably the pitter-patter programming and sonar pings of "Butter Cookies" and the choppy but subdued breakbeats of "Burning My B.A."), the album is largely a semi lo-fi exploration of downcast ambience. The mid-section of the album is especially chilly, with a slew of seriously melancholic tracks that all layer sparse guitar lines with wash after wash of fuzzy soundscapes.
Even tracks with lighter titles aren't exempt from the gloom, and "Goofy Takes A Bath" is a perfect example, with a skeletal beat providing just enough structure for a repetitive bass, ringing guitar notes, and multiple layers of both sparkling and gritty drones. Like many of the tracks on the release, it doesn't have any production qualities that mark it as modern, and it sounds like everything from an early 4AD release to what it in fact is (an album created in 2006 by a guy with a guitar and a computer). While there are definitely some great tracks on the album, Andlaus ultimately fails to really separate itself from the slew of other like-minded music coming out. If you like slower, lo-fi shoegaze-inspired ambient music, you could certainly do worse, but if you're looking for something to knock your socks off...