Review: BJ Nilsen – The Invisible City

The Invisible City feels like a dynamic, fully-functioning landscape. It’s only at the end of the album that you finally comprehend the city as a whole – the vibe of its various caverns and open spaces, the mechanized industrial routine that dominates its day-to-day. It’s a place with an erratic and unpredictable personality, with barren and unexplored environments rubbing shoulders with areas that are bustling with danger and corruption. Most prominently, it’s a place that completely strips away any sense of humanity or relatability and leaves an unsettling alien atmosphere in its place. From the moment The Invisible City begins you’re given the impression of being cast firmly away from any sort of comfort zone.

Initially, the pace feels quite pedestrian, pondering on environments and providing ample warning before moving gradually into the next. “Gravity Station” unfolds slowly from an electrical whirr into an atonal haze, gathering urgency and texture before coming to a very deliberate and choreographed conclusion. It’s one of the occasions on the album where BJ Nilsen gives you time to soak it up and understand what’s happening; you can relax into the city without needing to be poised for the next abrupt transition.

It’s the horrible guttural groan forty seconds into “Phase and Amplitude” – sounding like the sudden entrance of a thick black storm cloud – that seems to announce the album’s shift into more disruptive and unfriendly behavior. It’s potentially my favourite moment of the entire album; there’s a sickening sense of dread that floods in and so aptly signifies what lies ahead.

“Scientia” is the city in its greatest state of paranoia and unease. Screeching high frequencies fade into bizarre grunts and rustling from somewhere in amongst the pitch black. And then everything gives way with a sudden thud of impact, bursting into some kind of infinite open landscape. It’s a phenomenal experience the first time it occurs – the completely unexpected shift from creeping claustrophobia into endless space is beautifully executed and catches you very off guard indeed. “Virtual Resistance” continues the theme with a fluid feedback cascade entering fifteen seconds in, soon morphing into the gloomy throb of underground caves.

The last three tracks seem to indicate the journey out the other side. The uncomfortable chill that dominates the first five tracks begins to give way to a warmth and growing sense of stability. “Into Its Coloured Rays” drowns the landscape in a radiant glow, “Gradient” builds on its early drones to a climax of harmony and resolve, all before the shimmering title track ascends and departs the city for good.

My first listen to The Invisible City took place before I was aware of where the sounds had been sourced from, so I was even more impressed when I discovered that this immersive escapist environment had been constructed from such a unique array of timbres. Instruments banished to the status of untouchable antique, such as the Subharchord, have been revived and twisted into something completely new. Even more fascinating is the bizarre selection of field recordings that have been put to use here; the sound of chairs dragged across the floor, dead trees leaning on eachother, the flapping of bird wings and a cat climbing up a door all crop up on this record, the dry recordings molded and morphed beyond recognition and slotted perfectly into the city’s vivid imagery.