Monthly Archives: January 2015

…2015 w 05 – Album of the week is “Det är ni som e dom konstiga det är jag som e normal” by Thåström

ThåströmOk, let´s continue the album of the week series with one of the best efforts from the solo career of Swedish rocker deluxe Joakim Thåström. After being the driving force behind seminal acts Ebba Grön and Imperiet there was probably no way to turn than to himself after those (in Sweden at least) extremely popular and influential bands imploded.  In his early solo work Thåström carried on much in the same vein as before, the music however never loosing the feeling of being born out of an excitable and singular mind.

First solo album “Thåström” (1989) had several great songs establishing him as an artist in his own right and not only a member of a band. Stand-out track “Ståaldrigstill” was in many ways a declaration of intent from this great songwriter who, just as the title says, never has been standing still but instead continued to develop his craft. Follow up “Xplodera mig 2000” (1991) showed a harder sound prefacing his later dalliance with industrial rock after moving to Amsterdam and forming Peace, Love & Pitbulls (PLP for short), a band said to have influenced Marilyn Manson amongst others. This song from his second solo album sort of leads the way towards what was to come.

The years 1992 – 97 was spent living in Amsterdam, making three albums of hard industrial rock, severely polarizing and confusing Swedish music critics. Influenced by German group Einstürzende Neubauten and Swedish death metal  band Entombed, PLP were much more popular abroad than in Sweden, where they were often seen as an anomaly in the trajectory of Thåström´s career. Singing in English and doing something completely different was perhaps a way for Thåström to escape from his role as Sweden´s resident rock god for a while. That said, make no mistake, this was hard hitting stuff much deserving a listen. Bulldozer guitars, relentless beats and doomsday singing.

Upon returning to Sweden the next phase of Thåström´s solo career started, continuing to this day with a new tour and album scheduled for spring 2015. Again singing in Swedish, immensely pleasing the purists deeply suspicious of earlier detours into English.

Det är ni som är de konstiga“Det är ni som e dom konstiga det är jag som e normal” released in 1999 was a welcome return to form for Thåström, with several of his best songs and a tight, hard sound encapsulating everything that had come before, while still feeling like a new beginning. An English translation of the title would be approximately “You are the strange ones I´m the one who´s normal”, certainly a record title meant as a statement. This time backed by a band consisting of Swedish rock royalty like Chips Kiesby and Heikki Kiviaho of Sator, Henryk Lipp of Blue for Two and the fabulous Mikael Westergren of legendary bands Garbochock and Babylon Blues. A constellation creating a roaring wall of guitars behind Thåström´s passionate singing, here better than ever. Energetic and aggressive rock ´n´roll not ever losing its melodic anchor underneath all the mayhem.

I managed to see a few of the concerts from the tour following this album and remember them as loud and heavy, with Thåström in great form wrapping his thin body around the microphone stand in his inimitable way.  As a bonus the tour also included a series of rare performances by brilliant Swedish pop-recluse Jakob Hellman. Come to think of it, things probably were better in the old days.

Maybe it´s the strength of the live performances following this album that makes it my favourite of his, or perhaps it´s just the quality of the songs themselves. It doesn´t really matter, but for me this is one of those records that instantly transports me back to those days, for better or worse.

Thåström´s career continued with the release of “Mannen som blev en gris” (2002), which to me was slightly less rousing and definitely darker than its predecessor while still containing several good songs. “Skebokvarnsv. 209” (2005) meant a sharp turn into a new musical direction, with mostly acoustic singer-songwriter type songs. The title being the adress in Stockholm where Thåström grew up, and the lyrics largely introspective musings on his formative years and present life. An intensely personal and reflective album unlike any other he´d made. This new musical direction continued both on 2009´s “Kärlek är för dom” and 2012´s “Beväpna dig med vingar”. If the dark blues hymn of new single “Kom med mig” (released just a few days ago) is anything to by, the new album to be released shortly might just surprise us again.

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…Iceland should be perfect for making Whisky.

As the current whisky boom shows no signs of slowing down, millions of dollars are invested in  the Scottish whisky industry and new whisky-nations are popping up with increasing regularity. Here in my native Sweden we have well established distilleries like Mackmyra and Spirit of Hven, as well as newcomers Box, Gotland whisky and Grythyttan whisky. And now the whisky-craze has reached Iceland, with to my knowledge at least two active distilleries, Þoran and Flóki.

EimverkBecause of the changes in global climate, barley can now be grown in Iceland, which together with crystal clear water and cheap energy provides all the requisites for whisky making. Flóki whisky is made by the Eimverk distillery, a family business started in 2009, releasing its first products in 2014. The brew is made from 100% organic Icelandic barley slowly grown in volcanic soil. Because of the lower sugar content, 50% more Barley per bottle is needed. The whisky is handcrafted in small batches, with first releases being a one time offer of 100 charred oak barrels containing 4,5 litres of new make whisky and a limited bottling of Flóki Icelandic Young Malt. The barrels quickly sold out, but might still be found in selected Reykjavik bars. Apart from the whisky the distillery also makes a unique gin that I will write about later.

More or less a family tradition, me and the wife spent the New Years Eve of 2014 in Reykjavik, something that for the uninformed might not sound like a very hot proposition. But make no mistake, Reykjavik is a serious party city and never more so than on the last night of the year. The festive spirit of the locals shows no bounds, and the fireworks display at midnight is nothing less than crazy. Ordinary families blasts away thousands of dollars worth of pyrotechnics, turning the black night into daylight and making conversations impossible. New Years Eve in Reykjavik is something you´ll need to experience at least once in your life.

Flóki maltOn the trip back to Sweden the customary visit to the duty free store of Keflavik Airport yielded a surprise catch of a bottle of Flóki Young Malt, to be precise bottle number 109 from barrel number 2. Other people might put this bottle into storage, expecting cult status after the distilley has made a name for themselves in 10 or 15 years. Me, I tasted it the same night I got home, impatient as ever.

Flóki Young Malt is straw coloured with an aromatic nose dominated by caramel, toffee and banana notes. Neat in a tasting glass there´s a sweet, fruity beginning followed by fiery alcohol and a closing oak astringency. Very young but with obvious potential this is a whisky that will be exciting to try in a couple of years. Sold in a pretty unassuming bottle with a label covered with norse symbols and runes this still feels like something worth watching.

 

 

…2015 w 04 – Album of the week is “Silver, guld och misär” by Imperiet.

silver guld och misär Last week´s return to the late 70´s/early 80´s Swedish music scene, by way of seminal punk band Ebba Grön, naturally leads to this 6 disc collection of perhaps even more influential group Imperiet. Active from 1983 – 88, Imperiet proved to be a very important force of Swedish rock music that has hardly been surpassed since. Formed around the nucleus of Ebba Grön frontman Joakim Thåström with some of the other members of that band, they begun their career by releasing a series of hard-hitting singles creating quite a stir in the national rock community. The dual songwriting team of Thåström and Stry Terrarie ensured high quality songs and eclectic performances, unlike anything previously seen. Exhibiting both relentless energy and a certain degree of sophistication these songs created a niche of their own in the contemporary musical climate. At the time it felt easy to see a way forward for this group of excellent musicians.

Imperiet mini LPImperiet RaseraAlthough much anticipated, debut album “Rasera” (1983) largely failed to impress, mostly because of lack of direction and partially weak songwriting. While left wanting in many ways it still showed promise that bloomed on six track mini-LP “Imperiet” (1984). (Short comment for the download generation, a mini-LP is a 12” vinyl record with about 5 or 6 songs as opposed to the usual 10 of a regular LP). Containing several of their best numbers, the influence of soon-to-quit member Stry Terrarie was obvious. His departure wasn´t that much of a surprise, since very few bands can accomodate two such notable songwriters. This mini-LP is undoubtedly something of the best they ever did.

Imperiet blå himlen bluesAfter some personnel changes the group finally found its form and released their most successful album “Blå himlen blues” (1985). Showcasing Thåström as a songwriter of note, as well as a tight band immersed both in rock ´n´ roll and contemporary dance music (much thanks to fantastic and now sadly deceased bass player Christian Falk). This period was in many ways a creative peak for the band, giving rise to several of their most popular and enduring songs. I fondly remember some of the live shows from the tour following this album. Sweaty, ecstatic concerts by a muscular band with total control of their audience. Following this release several years were squandered trying to break the band internationally through an album of old songs with English lyrics. Despite a lot of work not that much happened.

Imperiet SyndFourth release “Synd” (1986) showed further development both musically and lyrically. Perhaps a bit too sophisticated for the times, it was still a great album with a few of their best songs. More reflective in mood and dropping some of the earlier rock ´n´ roll bombast for a more mature sound. Lyrically more intricate than anything that had previously left Thåström´s pen, this was a departure into rock as art and a band quietly reaching its summit. With several career highlights this album competes with “Blå himlen blues” as their best one. By force of sheer quality this is a record that helps to define the legacy of this great band in Swedish rock history. Innovative music combined with poetic lyrics in Swedish. One of the bands managing to use their native tongue to create a place for themselves in contemporary culture.

Imperiet Tiggarens TalSwansong album “Tiggarens tal” (1988) continued in a similar vein but with partly inferior material. While containing a few great songs the record lacked the cohesion and energy of earlier works. The feeling was of a band without direction going through the motions while seeing the end looming large before them. Experimental numbers like “Party” coexisted with Kurt Weil covers “Kanonsång”, along with classic Imperiet numbers as “Jag är en idiot”, “…som eld”, “Kung av jidder” and “…när vodkan gjort oss vackra”. All in all a record bookending the career of one of the most intriguing and accomplished Swedish rock bands of all time. Finishing their output with a series of songs both heartfelt and banal, Imperiet closed down on a note severly serious as well as intrinsically lightweight.

 

 

 

 

…”Top of the lake” is a trip well worth taking.

Jane CampionNew Zealand-born director Jane Campion, perhaps most known for the both Academy Award and Palme d´Or-winning “The Piano”, is the creative force behind this most unusual TV-series. Campion wrote the script together with Gerard Lee and shared directorial duties with Garth Davies. While first aired in the spring of 2013, I didn´t get around to watching it until now. Not really knowing what to expect I must say that this was a positive surprise in many ways.

Set in the small town of Laketop, New Zealand, the first scene shows a young girl leaving her home to wade out up to her neck into the cold waters of the titular lake. Beautifully shot and instantly making you wonder what´s going on, it´s an opening that will make sure to keep you nailed to the screen. The girl is 12 year old Tui, who after being rescued is discovered to be in an advanced stage of pregnancy, promptly turning this into a matter for the local police. Sydney Detective Robin Griffin (played by Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men” fame), who´s back in her old hometown visiting her sick mother is brought in to help with the investigation. Without giving the police any answers to what has happened to her Tui disappears, leaving Robin and fellow Detective Al Parker fumbling in the dark.

Top of the lakeVery  much like “Twin Peaks, Laketop proves to be one of those small towns very everybody knows everybody and everyone is connected by bonds either out in the open or carefully hidden. As we gradually learn during the series, even Robin has dark memories from her adolescent years living in Laketop, as well as convoluted relationships to several of the other characters of the show.

While the criminal investigation into Tui´s pregnancy and disappearance is the main thread of the series, it intersects with several other parallel storylines adding richness and colour to what otherwise could have been just another police procedural. One of the most important characters are Matt Mitcham (played by Peter Mullan), head of the Mitcham-family who´s barricaded in an enclave surrounded by barbed wire, and with his fingers into almost everything illegal going on in town. A dark and menacing presence following his own rules, and with deep roots at all levels of the community.

Despite just comprising seven episodes, there´s a lot going on here with entangled subplots being built up and then sometimes just allowed to sort of peter out. Some of them are quite strange, most so the new age commune lead by mysterious guru GJ (played by Holly Hunter), who set´s up home for herself and an assortment of psychologically damaged women in shipping containers on a piece of land claimed by Matt Mitcham. Bizarre but still strangely captivating.

The main story has to come to an end of course, and without disclosing too much I have to say that it´s slightly disappointing. Movie-savvy and observant viewers will already have it figured out before the final twist, which in addition feels a bit far-fetched and unoriginal.

Regardless of those small reservations this is an intriguing story told with an original voice. The plot is given time to develop, as well as the characters. There´s a special atmosphere that you rarely get in TV-series, that while sharing some similarities with “Twin Peaks” still holds its own. Much of the content is pretty dark stuff, dealing with its main theme of sexual violence in a way that´s making it feel real instead of speculative. Should definitely be seen by everybody interested in quality television.

…2015 w 03 – Album of the week is “Boxen” by Ebba Grön.

Ebba GrönThere´s no point in trying to deny that I´ve become old enough to be hit full on by nostalgic reminiscences of the music of my youth. Ebba Grön was one of those bands that in one way or other connected with everyone in Sweden interested in rock music during the late 70´s and early 80´s. The band derived their name from a Swedish Secret Police operation against left-wing terrorist Norbert Kröcher, who was aiming at freeing compatriots imprisoned after the RAF occupation of the West German Embassy in Stockholm a few years earlier.

Blasting onto the nascent Swedish punk scene with a handful of primitive singles in 1978, their debut album “We´re only in it for the drugs” released in 1979 made an unerasable impression on my then 16 year old mind. All the energy, rage and anti-authoritarianism yearned for by an excitable boy like myself, neatly packed into a collection of  2 minute songs.

Following a career trajectory not that unsimilar to their heroes The Clash, the music soon moved beyond the simplicity of punk as both musicianship and songwriting matured. Musical development not always being a concept well-liked by die-hard punks, Ebba still managed to both keep their old audience as well as gaining a new one with second album “Kärlek & uppror” (Love & rebellion) released 1981. The concerts I managed to see from the tour following the release are still remembered as explosions of excitement. Exstatic and sweaty nights wildly pogoing in small northern community centres and gymnasiums, being too young for the clubs they sometimes played. You never really forget those first experiences of the transformative power that live rock music can have.

Third and final album “Ebba Grön” (1982) took the band even further into the mix of punk energy and the good parts of traditional rock ´n´roll. New member Stry Terrarie (previously driving force of legendary band Garbochock, and deserving a long post of his own sometime later) was a big influence on both sound and songwriting, and the album is perhaps more highly regarded now than it was then. Shortly after its release Ebba Grön disbanded and the story was over.

Ebba Grön BoxenDespite owning all the original records on vinyl, this 5 disc box was of course irresistible when it appeared. Containing all three albums, singles, previously unreleased songs, a live disc and a DVD movie it is the definitive document of this great group. Watching the DVD again recently was a journey back in time, reliving the so called “Turister i tillvaron” tour of 1980-81. The shows were a double act with old friends Dag Vag, a legendary Swedish act known for their idiosyncratic mix of rock and reggae played with punk energy. The encores of this tour usually consisted of both bands joining in to play Dag Vag´s “Samma sak” and Ebba´s monster hit “Staten & kapitalet”. The latter a punk remake of an old tune by Blå Tåget, a well known Swedish progressive rock band. With lyrics detailing the close relationship between the Social Democratic welfare state and the capitalist elite it was an instant smash which everybody could sing along to. Even my parents knew the chorus of this song. Aah, those were the days.

Leading man Thåström moved on to form other influential bands before settling on a solo career continuing to this date. Very few would dispute his position as one of the greatest and most enduring rock musicians this small country has produced. Those interested are advised to check up on Imperiet, Peace Love and Pitbulls and Thåström himself.

 

…Oaxen stands its ground – the revisit.

OaxenI´ve written about this phenomenal restaurant before, and its reincarnation after moving into Stockholm from the archipelago island of Oaxen. If Alinea (written about here) represents the utmost in molecular gastronomy, Oaxen holds a similar position when it comes to a local and seasonally based kitchen. That´s not to say that Mats Ek and his coworkers are somehow lacking in technique, they obviously know every move you could possibly need, but rather that they subscribe to a different philosophy. Much of the ingredients in this fabulous 10 course menu are collected in the grounds surrounding the restaurant on the island of Djurgården, a beautiful and green part of Stockholm. The menu strictly adheres to what´s in season, ensuring the best ingredients possible.

Apart from the menu itself we were treated to a never ending series of wonderful amuse bouches that could have been regular courses at a lesser restaurant. The wine pairing was flawless as usual and the service friendly, exact and unobtrusive. Considering the pretty high level of competition in Stockholm, with several extraordinary establishments, I sincerely hope that this place will succeed not only gastronomically but also financially. Oaxen is just so very exceptional and unique.

…2015 w 02 – Album of the week is “Neon Golden” by The Notwist.

the notwistAccording to the laws of modern record company thinking this band shouldn´t exist. In today´s musical climate nobody could release five unsuccessful albums before hitting the motherlode of contemporary indie aesthetics. Led by the Acher brothers, this is a group combining pop sensibilities with modern electronica into a whole much larger than its constituents. Almost totally unknown in my native Sweden, my first contact with this German bunch was through a review of a re-release of their seminal album “Neon Golden” (2002). Regrettably missed upon its original appearance this is one of the greatest records from a European band during the 00´s.

neon goldenUnderstated opener “One step inside doesn´t mean you understand” establishes the mastery of a wide variety of cool-sounding instruments as well as modern electronica, developing into the modus operandi of this great band. Second song “Pilot” is a foray into elegantly soaring pop with suitably oblique lyrics, while “Pick up the phone” goes into melancholy rock augmented by the bleeps and bloops of Martin Gretschmann. “Thrashing Days” brings banjo to the fore while merging original moody pop with innovative electronics. The claustrophobia of “This room” goes along with the overall feel of the album, keeping things new and authentic.

“Solitaire” goes on with minimalistic melodies giving way to the ecstatic sweeps of “One with the freaks”. Title tune “Neon golden” combines everything that´s great with this album into a song immersed in tradition and contemporary technology. One of those happy coincidences producing pop art.

The group has quietly continued to turn out great material as is evidenced by 2014´s “Close to the glass”, which carries on very much in the same vein. For those who haven´t already discovered this band, “Neon Golden” is an excellent place to start.