Album Review: Altin Gün – Yol [Glitterbeat Records; February 2021]

Altın Gün cruise new avenues on Yol, their 80s synth-pop influenced third album.

As the opening track of Altın Gün’s highly-anticipated third album Yol segues into the second-track ‘Ordunun Dereleri’, we hear the sound of traffic speeding along highways towards unknown destinations. Indeed the album documents a journey for the Amsterdam-based group as they travel from the fuzzy psychedelia of their previous two albums to the more industrial soundscapes of 80s influenced avant-pop.

Altın Gün – whose name translates as Golden Day – formed after Dutch musician Jasper Verhulst, beguiled by the local music he discovered on a trip to Istanbul in 2016, decided to return home and form a band. The group’s six members are united by a shared love of Turkish music and its luminaries such as Barış Manço, Erkin Koray and Selda Bağcan. After their buzz-generating 2018 debut On was roundly praised, Altın Gün went on to deliver their brilliant sophomore album Gece (for which they later received a Grammy nomination in the Best World-Music Album category). Looking to expand their soundscape for their third LP (released via German label Glitterbeat), the sextet enlisted Ghent-based producer duo Asa Moto whose abstract, off-kilter tendencies give the tracks a more muscular groove.

On their first two albums, Altın Gün found a winning formula in plundering the almost inexhaustible treasure trove of Turkish and Anatolian classics and reimagining those standards using a sublime blend of contemporary styles and instrumentation. Whilst the crate-digging culture is retained, Yol represents a brilliant variation on a theme for the band in that it owes as much to the early pioneers of European synth-pop as it does to the influential Anatolian artists of the same era. Tender classic Turkish ballads become upbeat, 80s indebted synth-pop numbers whilst traditional folk instruments such as the bağlama are interwoven with the retro sounds of analog drum machines and omnichords. Together with field recordings, infectious synth melodies, funky guitar riffs and lots of cowbell, Altın Gün have added to a flawless oeuvre and delivered their most rounded and energetic work to date.

It is perhaps with a knowing irony that Altın Gün title their latest album Yol (translating as Road in Turkish) at a time of travel restrictions and wanderlust amidst the ongoing pandemic. It is truly a work of the modern world; with tour dates and festival appearances cancelled, the band members completed the album whilst largely confined to their homes as singer Merve Dasdemir explains: “We were basically stuck at home for three months making home demos, with everybody adding their parts. The transnational feeling maybe comes from that process of swapping demos over the internet, some of the music we did in the studio, but lockdown meant we had to follow a different approach.

This patient, innovative method to songwriting gave the band license to explore new avenues. On lead-single ‘Ordunun Dereleri’, Erdinç Ecevit‘s yearning vocals hang patiently over a heavy and menacing synth bass rhythm; it’s a murky, atmospheric mood-setter which would have perfectly complemented the ultra-cool Drive soundtrack (had it been made a decade earlier!) ‘Yüce Dağ Başında’ is a more skippy, almost playful number with elevating bridges and delicate disco chords accompanied by the throwback sounds of a melodica, generous amounts of cowbell and a vintage Roland CR-78 drum machine (all of which are showcased in the quirky music video for the track). ‘Bulunur Mu’ gives a Neşet Ertaş classic an upbeat, 80s pop makeover whilst ‘Kara Toprak’ – a reworking of a classic folk song by revered Turkish poet-musician Âşık Veysel – pulls proceedings in a funkier direction with plodding bass guitar and cosmic synth vamps. For all of its new wave ebullience Yol still has space for more poignant moments such as the sparing and dreamy ‘Kesik Çayır’ and ‘Arda Boyları’, a reworking of a traditional Rumelian song on which Merve Dasdemir’s wistful vocals retell the story of a young girl forced into marriage before a tragic demise.

Fans of their earlier more psych-orientated work will be pleased with the lysergic, Brazilian-influenced ‘Yekte’ and also ‘Maçka Yolları’ which weaves choppy Os Mutantes style guitars with distinctive saz rhythms but Yol shines most brightly when the band wriggle free of tradition and transcend stylistic boundaries. As Altın Gün continue on their exploratory journey, Yol will be remembered as an outstanding stretch of open road.