[SOUNDSCAPES] Is the "sophomore slump" an American concept? Because Pikara godhead Sara Johanne isn't from our country—she's from Sweden, though she has spent the past three years in Portland, where both her band (Dead Cinema) and label (AIO Records) also reside—and she might not have been dodging expectations with her second album, Constellations, an entirely improvised, near-ambient collection ripe with plucked violin and warm fuzz.
Either way, Johanne's first effort as Pikara took a more formal approach to songwriting—songs like "Few Hit Wonder" and "Over and Out" were flush with classical and experimental influences, but they maintained a healthy dose of form and structure. The improv fare of Constellations tends toward wandering, string-heavy space-jams—with a lazy, dark tone that has more in common with indie film scores than underground pop albums.
A minimal, eight-minute instrumental opening tune would usually be a cue for me to fall asleep or turn off the stereo (patience, sadly, is not my strong suit), and improvisational music is generally best left to be appreciated…well, by other improvisational musicians. But Johanne is as adept at constructing these sparse, trippy and largely instrumental compositions from scratch as she was at writing the slow, dark, pretty pop of her previous disc. That's because these songs, however off-the-cuff, have personality. The five-minute "Tucana" dabbles in tango before disintegrating into tape-loop hell; "Svanen" finds ghosts of Delta blues in its slides and vocal moans.
I know where Sara Johanne literally came from (Sweden, remember?), but I don't know where she came from. And how I ever missed her. Now that I've spent some time with Pikara, I just know I'm not letting her out of my sight.
SEE IT: Pikara plays at Valentine's on Tuesday, Feb. 8, with Double U and Empty Seas. 9 pm. Cover. 21+.