Sir Was: Digging a Tunnel
Album: Digging a Tunnel
I distinctly remember the first time I heard the music of sir Was, the solo project of Swedish musician Joel Wästburg. I was skipping through the Discover Weekly Spotify playlist on the hunt for something new but had found nothing, which is generally the case with Discover Weekly. However, as soon as I heard the prominent beat and sweeping falsetto of sir Was on 'Falcon', the second single released under the moniker, I was immediately taken aback.
On Wästburg's debut full-length album, Digging A Tunnel, the Gothenburg-based multi-instrumentalist produced and recorded all the drums, keyboards, basses, guitars, clarinets and saxophones himself, save the soaring bagpipes on the first single, 'A Minor Life,’ and the harmonica on 'Bomping'. It's been a long time coming for Wästburg to attempt to carve out a solo career, having previously sat behind the drums in Junip and José Gonsález's band as well as studying and performing jazz saxophone for a number of years throughout the world. And those experiences are prevalent within Digging A Tunnel, blending each to create a constantly altering record.
Nowadays it’s increasingly difficult to contain an artist to just one genre, and sir Was is no different. Digging A Tunnel is the epitome of contemporary multi-instrumentalist solo work, with Wästburg combining past jazz experiences and his love for gritty hip-hop, electronica, and a staining of psychedelica. The fluidity of genres throughout the album is best exemplified by 'Revoke'. The track features an absorbing, whistling introduction that forms into a sample of 'Last Night I Was Sleeping' by Antonio Machado before picking up through the suspenseful and recognisably sir Was keys, claps, clicks and distinct Scandinavian falsetto. As ‘Revoke’ chops and changes from beginning to end, the remainder of the debut follows a similar course, every song detailing a different story of Wästburg.
At times it feels like Wästburg didn’t have a particularly clear plan for his debut. Within each song there appears an effort to incorporate a uniquely peculiar component, like the bag-pipes and the harmonica, but additionally the chime of clock bells on ‘Interconnected’ and Wästburg’s attempt at rapping on ‘Falcon’. But it’s these elements of surprise that wear thin in the second half of the album, where the underlying melancholic production of the record eventually becomes overarching, leading to a slow conclusion.
Digging A Tunnel is at its essence an enjoyable listen, entertaining in its mix of influences from his extensive musical catalogue. Although the close of the record may present as somewhat tedious, the favourable diversity of elements - like the surprising success of the bag-pipes - throughout Wästburg’s debut make it a primarily fascinating record.