Swedish multi-instrumentalist and co-founder of one of the earliest Rock in Opposition (RIO) groups, Samla Mammas Manna, Lars Hollmer has always been a melodic contrast to the oftentimes (but not always) more outré explorations of companion groups like Henry Cow, Art Zoyd and Univers Zéro. Living in a universe of his own making, Hollmer's 2005 performance at Victoriaville, Canada's FIMAV festival drew heavily on his Scandinavian roots and there's no mistaking Hollmer's origins on Viandra. Still, it's a far more cosmopolitan affair that manages to be strangely innocent and frequently joyful despite being a more far-reaching sonic and emotional collage that's far deeper than its singable melodies might suggest.
Recorded between 2001 and 2007, largely by Hollmer on over a dozen instruments (but dominated by his primary instrument, accordion) the involvement of Univers Zéro's Michel Berckmans on bassoon, oboe, English horn and melodica on seven of the album's sixteen through-composed tracks provides a direct tie between Hollmer and his RIO cousins. Even when its subject matter is dark (the brief "Moldaviska," from a film soundtrack about young Moldavian women returning home after escaping the Western European sex trade), his music possesses an overarching joyful, albeit occasionally bittersweet, optimism that's in sharp contrast to Univers Zéro's darker landscapes.
There are more dramatic passages, with the serpentine melody of "Prozesscirk," performed in unison by Hollmer, Berckmans, violinist Santiago Jiminez and cellist Andreas Tengberg (both of whom appear throughout the album along with briefer guest appearances by drummer Morgan Ågren from Mats/Morgan band, mandolinist Coste Apetrea and saxophonist Ulf Wallander, an alum from Samla Mammas Manna and Flower Kings). Hollmer's idiosyncratic sense of humor surfaces on the aptly titled "Konstig (Strange)," one of the disc's longest tracks at just under five minutes, with Berckman's bassoon joining Hollmer's accordion for a dervish-like theme driven by a gentle but persistent rhythm. The interlocking counterpoint of the melancholy "Baladeis" still retains a compelling beauty that juxtaposes with the bright, polka-esque "Strutt (Strut)," while "Första 05 (First 05)" and closing "Folkdron Menad" come closest to the Univers Zéro/Art Zoyd sphere.
Still, even when the mood is dark, there's an unmistakable poignancy that keeps Viandra thoroughly accessible. Folkloric elements imbue the title track, and the upbeat "Alice" reflects a happy exuberance hard to find on most RIO recordings. Hollmer's multi-instrumentalism lends this set a broad palette, but it's his accordions that dominate, and there are few others, aside from Guy Kulcevsek, Richard Galliano and Jean-Louis Matinier, who can make the instrument sing the way Hollmer does.
Viandra may be a solo album years in the making, and in its layered multi-tracking, anything but spontaneous. Still, Hollmer's humanity shines through, giving this album of detailed construction a natural, unforced feel that's all the more remarkable for its clearly considered approach.