Personnel: Lars Hollmer (vocals, mandolin, ukulele, accordion, melodica, keyboards, percussion).
Liner Note Author: Gabriel Strand Hollmer.
Translator: Dominic Power.
Encouraged by Cuneiform Records' Steve Feigenbaum, Lars Hollmer's son Gabriel Strand Hollmer completed his father's With Floury Hand project after Lars' passing in 2008, and the CD portion of this 2012 CD/DVD set certainly reflects the "weird" flavor the elder Hollmer intended. The tracks Gabriel compiled from the archive of his father's Chickenhouse studio outside Uppsala, Sweden effectively capture the unhinged spirit Lars planned to contrast the melancholy of his last album, 2008's Viandra. And in fact, With Floury Hand (Sketches) -- or Med Mjölad Hand (Skisser) in Swedish -- is a wild ride through nearly all the facets of his artistic persona extending back to the early '80s, served up in bite-sized bits. The CD booklet -- with a cover painting by Lars' daughter and Gabriel's sister Rinda Strand Hollmer that, in its own charmingly intimate "outsider" way, captures the sweep of Viandra's cover collage of people, places, and other highlights in Lars' musical journey -- includes an essay by Gabriel in which he explains the derivation of the album's title and then continues, "This is not With Floury Hand as my father might have imagined it and it is not a finished album" (hence the parenthetical "Sketches" appended to the title). Among the 26 tracks ranging from 12 seconds to four and a half minutes in length (and featuring Lars multi-tracked on accordion, keyboards, melodica, ukulele, mandolin, drum machine, percussion, and more), there is plenty of "Crazy Stuff" -- that's even the name given to a particularly manic, percolating minute-long tune. One hears snippets of nearly everything imaginable refracted through Lars' musical prism: a polka rhythm, tango-flavored segue, circus fanfare, and Balkan theme; Latin, African, and clubby electronic beats; dark unsettling dirges and an even darker exercise in slow-crawling synth tones and outright noise. Accordion-centric Euro-folkiness contrasts with rattling rhythms, warped vocals, skewed harmonics, and abrasive timbres. There's a tipsy German art song and a goofball ditty ("Kanske") with an intentionally ridiculous vocal delivery rather like an unctuous Continental café waiter crossed with a cat about to cough up a hairball. Gabriel describes that last one as "very stupid and very funny," but "Siska," a sprightly remembrance of a family dog (who sadly died too young), is warmly heartfelt, and the likewise upbeat "Förubestämningen" (Predestinator) is another light but "serious" highlight with large-ensemble fullness prominently featuring the sounds of a melodic flute and magical harp-like embellishments.
Other treasures unearthed and heard here for the first time include "Vendelvarianter," a lovely variation on part of "Misery" from 1987's Vendeltid, arguably Hollmer's crowning achievement of the decade; Lars' original studio version of "Franklåt," a classic theme previously heard in a live version on 1993's Door Floor Something Window; the ramshackle maximalism of "Okjak," a brief Von Zamla-esque blast featuring guitarist Eino Haapala; and an ominous studio version of "Talrika," written for Miriodor and heard on the Montreal band's 2005 Parade + Live at NEARFest. It all adds up to a worthy sequel to 1995's also 26-track Vandelmässa collection (there's even a track called "Vandelmässa" here), which slammed the "Door" (literally) on Lars' first Chickenhouse studio and ushered in the second half of his solo career. Much more than mere icing on the cake is the DVD video of a rare Lars solo set from the 2005 Gouveia (Portugal) Art Rock Festival; featuring expert multi-camera work (despite a prog rocky smoke machine inappropriately churning away in the background now and then) and great sound, the video displays Lars' charisma, virtuosity, and ability to command a stage with just his voice, accordion, and melodica, something the festival organizers thankfully realized. When Univers Zero bassoonist Michel Berckmans and then Miriodor (on the aforementioned "Talrika") appear in the second half, Lars' spirit of musical camaraderie is fully in evidence, although his tempos threaten to leave Berckmans breathless on occasion. And it's a killer, well-chosen set (including an effortlessly high-spirited solo rendition of "Simfägeldans" that even gets the art rock audience clapping along). The DVD also features a video of Lars and accordionist Fizzè in duet at a Swiss restaurant; the video is comparatively amateurish with erratic camera work and waitpersons walking back and forth but the sound is good, Lars performs tremendously, and the set includes his "greatest hit," "Boeves Psalm" -- so this is icing on the cake. Belated newcomers to Lars Hollmer's music might be astounded that all the music on the CD in particular came from one person, and those challenged by sudden stylistic left turns in a playlist might be utterly befuddled, left searching for a common thread -- but that thread is Lars' anything-goes attitude and enthusiasm for whatever he tackled. With Floury Hand (Sketches) is exhilarating listening (and viewing), and in a world now without Lars, poignant and bittersweet. ~ Dave Lynch