The sea, in all its expansive mystery and quiet beauty, is unmatched in its power. An entity referenced throughout culture for both its stillness and relentlessness, the sea has been, and will always be, in diametric opposition to itself.
Among those who understand and celebrate this opposition is Sofia Nystrand, the Stockholm-based artist who performs as Vargkvint. Nystrand has set out to create a concept album chronicling this conflict, and “Fyr,” the second single from Vargkvint’s full-length debut Hav, serves, as its name might suggest—“Fyr” is the Swedish word for “lighthouse”—as a beacon for weary wanderers. With its impossibly light vocals floating over a simple and ghostly piano track, “Fyr” functions beautifully as a meditative guide for anyone searching the sea for somewhere to land on an overcast day.
Eight years before the release of “Fyr,” German artist Bartholomäus Traubeck debuted his unforgettable installation Years, which shares similar forebodings of nature to those Nystrand details in “Fyr.” Using the data Traubeck gleaned from a tree’s year rings, he translated and transformed the metrics within each ring into piano music. Years is, in short, a turntable that plays the rings of trees like grooves on a record. The result is a seven-track album featuring the recorded output of seven different types of Austrian trees, each song showcasing the menacing and formidable uncertainty of nature. Ethereal and uncoordinated keys barely trailing together are often interrupted by the startling crash of a chord, as if nature has hastily upturned the piano.
Nystrand weaves her natural apprehensions through “Fyr” in a much subtler way. She combines the celestial vocals and field recordings found in many Grouper records with the lighter parts of Traubeck’s Years, conveying a sound that’s more mysterious than it is outwardly menacing. No distracting swell and crash occur within the track’s four-minute runtime; rather, the song’s consistency from start to finish outlines and imitates the same constant nature found in the still waters of the sea. The solitary chord repeated throughout “Fyr” creates a comfortable lull in the atmosphere as Nystrand’s airy voice calmly wraps the song with an enticing pull. Her siren’s call beckons to anyone unfortunate enough to sail near the sheer face of a cliff cloaked in fog.
Just as the beauty of nature and the open sea can’t exist without their own inherent dangers, the terrifying intensity of Traubeck’s trees perfectly counterbalance the spectral sounds of Nystrand’s Hav. Though each artist exemplifies opposing halves of the ever-meticulous equilibrium of the natural world, they’re both masters in their own right at using art to reckon with it.