Artist: Jens Carelius | Album: Opsi | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive folk | Year: 2019
From: Oslo, Norway | Label: Jansen Records
For fans of: Beardfish, The Strawbs, Gryphon, Peter Gabriel
Entomology isn’t entirely new ground for progressive rock. The 2015 album Hivemind from the band Plank is about bugs. And while perhaps not the exact same branch of science, the band Slugdge have built their whole career around mollusks, including slugs and snails, which are colloquially grouped together with insects. Opsi, however, focuses on a specific entomologist, which is more distinct.
Based on his great-great-grandfather’s diaries from his time studying butterflies in Siberia, folk musician Jens Carelius pairs his unique style of finger-picking and strumming with rich synthesizers to create evocative soundscapes. Opsi is far more daring in its song structures and textures than Carelius’s previous releases. Elements of his smart folk-pop still manage to shine through, making this album both complex and surprisingly accessible.
That folk-poppiness is especially evident on the opener, “Lay Me Down”. Relatively straightforward, it establishes the overall sound of the album: strummed guitar, big synths, and electronic-influenced percussion. “Hunting Butterflies” shows more structural ambition. After opening with minor-key arpeggios, growling, hissing synths start to build, and the song eventually launches into cosmic blend of jazzy bass runs, effects-laden vocals, and tom-heavy drumming. The song continues to build up until its final moments, driven by ever-more-incessant drumming and topped with dramatic strings.
After the grandiosity of “Hunting Butterflies”, “Even Beauty Grows Old” acts as something of a palette cleanser. It’s based around a simple electronic beat, dreamy vocals, and ample guitar flourishes. Following this, “The Weight” feels like it could have been part of a film score. Complex classical guitar lines weave together with piano and strings for the first three-and-a-half minutes before the vocals enter.
The gentleness of that song segues directly into the sprawling centerpiece of the album, “Bonefire”. The song begins with plaintive vocals over cold guitar before more strings, synths, and electronic percussion take over. The mood stays wintry and grim, and once again, there is some impressive bass-playing. Much like “Hunting Butterflies”, this song keeps building, adding layers and growing the drama. Near the end, though, much of that grandiosity suddenly drops off, leaving just some spare guitar and strings.
“Amur”, despite being named for a river in such a cold region, is a surprisingly warm and sunny piece. It reminds me of some early Pink Floyd instrumentals, with its floating guitar and jazzy atmosphere It’s another nice little breather. “All I Know” follows and is probably my favorite song on the album. It’s another slow-building piece where synths, bass, and percussion swell over the acoustic guitar. The keys on this song are especially lush, and Carelius’s impassioned vocals sell the performance perfectly.
Opsi is an impressive integration of acoustic and electric elements. It’s clearly rooted in folk and singer-songwriter traditions, but the instrumentation is inventive and rich. Jens Carelius thought outside the box for this album, and it payed off.