Piiptsjilling consists of Jan & Romke Kleefstra (Alvaret Ensemble, Kleefstra|Bakker|Kleefstra, etc.), Mariska Baars (soccer Commitee) and Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek). They combine poetry with vocals, guitars and electronics. Whether in the studio or live, they always improvise. Without much discussion, they just start, and the music magically pours out, sometimes ethereally beautiful and at other times abstract and noisy.
Jan Kleefstra’s poems are in Frisian, a language most listeners won’t literally understand, but can just as well be experienced on a musical level, adding a sence of mysterious melancholy to the music.
‘Fiif’ doesn’t so much mark a new chapter for the band, but rather an organic progression of their sound. There’s a rougher edge to it then on previous albums like ‘Wurdskrieme’ (Experimedia, 2010) or ‘Moarntiids’ (Midira, 2014), and Mariska’s vocals have gained an even more important role.
Once upon a time, a musical project called Soccer Committee produced a couple of albums of wonderful songs characterised by major harmonies, meandering guitar, and plaintive yet slightly elusive singing. These days the Committee appears to have disbanded, but the artist behind the project, Mariska Baars, continues to work together with Rutger Zuydervelt and the brothers Jan and Romke Kleefstra in the band Piiptsjilling. There are moments on the new Piiptsjilling album “Fiif” that recall Baars’ earlier project, perhaps most noticeably on the blissful, unhurried bundle of hope that is second track ‘Winterrude’ (‘Winter’s end’, if I’ve translated that right). But while major-key mellowness is heard throughout the album, it has to contend with other currents that pull the music in different directions.
Take ‘Smjunt’, for example: Baars’ multitracked singing is sunny and gentle, and the accompanying little buzzes and hoots are unobtrusive — but then Romke Kleefstra enters with dense growls from what sounds like bowed guitar, leaving Jan Kleefsta’s murmured poetry to pick an uncertain path somewhere between light and dark. Jan intones at a steady pitch, and then (incredibly, for those familiar with the way he typically delivers his poetry to music) begins to gently sing, bringing the music out of the dark cavern and back into the light. ‘Lykmoedigens’ sustains a dark, minor-key tone for about six minutes or so, driven by Zuydervelt’s muffled thumps, dripping and tapping, before seamlessly transitioning to a major key with big, shimmering guitar chords.
But it’s the opening track ‘Each yn each mei de see’ that is the album’s most unusual: a coastal soundscape with gentle guitar strumming, dreamy and drifting. It made me realise, as the album progressed, just how much of Piiptsjilling’s music can be described as wave-like, crescendoing and diminishing or oscillating between different states, sometimes with waves within waves working across volume, rhythm, and harmony, and across instruments, electroacoustic sounds, and voices. “Fiif” sees the band branch out from their typically dark, atmospheric fare to explore different tonal colours, and there are moments of pushing at the boundaries of the drones that have perhaps become a comfortable prison cell for them across a number of releases. It feels like a clear step forward, and it’s great music too.