I distinctly remember the first time I heard the music of sir Was, the solo project of Swedish musician Joel Wästburg. Casually skipping through the personalised Discover Weekly Spotify playlist on the hunt for something that would prick my attention, there was nothing striking to the ear, which is generally the case with unfamiliar music. However, I was immediately taken aback as soon as I heard the prominent beat and sweeping falsetto of sir Was on ‘Falcon’, the second single released under the moniker.
On Wästburg’s debut full-length album as sir Was, Digging A Tunnel, the Gothenburg-based multi-instrumentalist produced and recorded all the drums, keyboards, basses, guitars, clarinets and saxophones on the record himself. It is only the soaring bagpipes on the first sir Was single ‘A Minor Life’ and harmonica found on ‘Bomping’ that were not performed by Wästburg. It’s been a long time coming for Wästburg to attempt to carve out a solo career, as he previously sat behind the drums in Junip and José Gonsález’s band and also studied and performed jazz saxophone for a number of years in many destinations worldwide. The experiences of Wästburg are significant throughout Digging A Tunnel, as he blends his influences together to create a constantly altering record.
Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly difficult to contain an artist to just one genre, and sir Was is no different to that. The record is the epitome of modern music, combining sir Was’ past musical experiences in jazz, while also meshing elements of gritty hip-hop, electronica and a staining of psychedelica throughout Digging A Tunnel. 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 his distinctly Scandinavian falsetto, eventually blossoming into one of the highlights of Digging A Tunnel. As ‘Revoke’ chops and changes from beginning to end, the remainder of sir Was’ debut follows a similar course; every song detailing a different story of Wästburg.
At times on Digging A Tunnel, it seems as though Wästburg didn’t particularly have a clear plan for his debut as sir Was. This may be because on each song there is somewhat of an effort to incorporate a unique and peculiar element, such as the aforementioned delightful bag-pipes and harmonica, but also the chime of clock bells on ‘Interconnected’ and Wästburg’s attempt at rapping on ‘Falcon’. However, the elements of surprise wear thin in the second half of Digging A Tunnel, where the underlying melancholic production of the record eventually becomes overarching, leading to a slow conclusion to the album.
The debut of seasoned musician sir Was in Digging A Tunnel is essentially an enjoyable listen, entertainingly mixing various influences from his extensive musical catalogue. Although it may be somewhat of a tedious close to the record, the amount of well used elements, like the surprising success of the bag-pipes, throughout Digging A Tunnel make it a primarily fascinating record.
Highlight: ‘Digging A Tunnel’
Listen to Digging A Tunnel below: