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Gustaf Fjelstrom’s Ethereal, Downtempo ‘Intention’

In Music
Gustaf Fjelstrom crafts gauzy, ambient instrumentals in his San Jose studio.

Gustaf Fjelstrom crafts gauzy, ambient instrumentals in his San Jose studio.

All throughout the ’90s, Gustaf Fjelstrom kept his head down—playing bass in the background of local power trio Maximum Indifference. It was a role he was used to. Most of his musical life he has acted in supporting roles, playing less popular instruments. He played bass for his high school jazz band and got his start in music on the accordion, which he started learning in 1st grade.

These days, however, Fjelstrom, is taking the lead—as the sole songwriter, producer and frontman of his very own solo project. He will release his first full-length, full-band solo LP, Intention, on June 1.

Fjelstrom (the J is silent), describes his music as a cross between Tycho and Hammock. It’s an apt comparison. Texturally, the album sounds very much like the reverb-soaked, instrumental electronica of the San Francisco-based Tycho. While the volume pedal guitar swells and ambient, breathy non-verbal vocals definitely recall the work of the Nashville ambient/post rock duo.

And it’s not just that the tones Fjelstrom has selected mirror those used by Tycho and Hammock. The South San Jose-based songwriter says he quite literally imagined “what it would sound like if Hammock and Tycho were in a band together and I was on bass.”

Take one look at the album’s artwork—an orb composed of interlocking half-shells floating in a pink-magenta-blue haze—and you’ll get an idea of what his music sounds like. If the shape on the record’s cover calls to mind the massive wormhole generator from the 1997 film Contact, the songs within sound a lot like what you’d expect to hear while floating in the orbit of the faraway heavenly universe Jody Foster’s character is sent away to.

Every instrument and synth patch on Intention is wrapped in a dense, aural gauze. Ethereal incantations smear into one another, while live drums and glitch electronic samples form hypnotic rhythms.

Fjelstrom says it has been nice to indulge his mellower side. Maximum Indifference was a much higher energy band—influenced primarily by Rush and other ’70s and ’80s progressive rock.

“This latest album is really something I’ve been wanting to do for a while,” Fjelstrom says. “It’s been nice to chill out a little bit. Get a little spacey.”

But Intention isn’t just a diversion from his work with Maximum Indifference. With his new album, he is expanding upon the extremely minimalist work he did immediately following his departure from his former group.

So far, he is happy with the result. “I accomplished what I set out to do, so now it’s about getting it out there and getting it into as many hands as possible,” he says.

And when he says “hands,” he means it. Fjelstrom plans to release the album as a download through his BandCamp page on June 1, but he will also be issuing the work as a deluxe vinyl set.

The limited edition 12-inch LP set will be pressed on 200-gram black and purple vinyl, heavy stock, full-color jackets and inner sleeve, along with a CD version of the album and a free download. The deluxe package can be ordered now; it will ship around July 1.

As a collector of vinyl himself, Fjelstrom is hopeful that ambient music fans will be drawn to the attractive set. “I really like that feeling of having something tangible in my hand to hold and collect,” he says.

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