Author Archives: danolofohman

…2017 w 52 – Album of the week is “Släkt med Lotta Svärd” by Vasas flora och fauna.

Some time ago my big brother tipped me off about a group from Finland called ”Vasas Flora och Fauna” who had released an album he considered worth checking out. The core of the band consisted of only two persons, Mattias Björkas and Iiris Viljanen, both from Vasa in the Swedish-speaking part of Finland. Björkas has a past in Finnish indiepop band ”Cats on fire”, where he sang in English to the tune of pretty British-sounding guitar pop. Viljanen is a pianist, singer and songwriter, also with a history of being in the same band.  

If we go back in time to 2012, ”Cats on fire” made their last album to date, called ”All blackshirts to me”. A record filled with well-produced and very competent guitar-based indiepop. Good songs, expertly played, sometimes great melodies, but somehow still not really clicking. As guitar pop goes this is about as good as it gets, and has sonic echoes of my all time Swedish heroes ”The Bear Quartet”. A very enjoyable album in a style that´s in many ways part of the cultural air I breathe. Yet something essential was missing.

Fastforward to 2015. Björkas and Viljanen had been trying out songs in different ways and shapes, but nothing worked to their satisfaction. That is, until they came up with the idea of singing the songs in the Finnish Österbotten regional dialect of Swedish. Now everything fell into place, and the first original album by ”Vasas Flora och Fauna”, called ”Släkt med Lotta Svärd”, came into being.

Although a pretty low-profile recording it contains a set of songs unique in every aspect – the music, the lyrics, the delivery and the strangely melodic properties of the words sung. From the first note to the last this is an album that absolutely floored me. Not by inventing a new musical style, but by using the traditional trappings of pop music to create a deeply personal sonic and poetic landscape. A few of the songs on the album are actually re-works of songs from “Cats on fire”-albums , adding crucial inspiration to both music and words. Putting together parts that´s been used a million times before into something shiny and new and bold is a mark of true creativity. 

Piano-fuelled opener ”Gudförälder” sets the tone with it´s minor key lament of the friend-of-the-mother-become-lost-and-confused-godparent-with-the-will-to-make-a-difference-lyric.

 

”Om jag nånsin far till Jakobstad igen” is a delicately flowing Monkees cover with sublimely melodic acoustic guitar rekindling your belief in the power of pop.

”Prisma” goes into piano ballad territory, and is the new group´s version of the ”Cats on fire” song ”Our old centre back”. Moving from a guitar-based sound to a much starker piano backing, as well as changing the lyrics from the original athletes and alcohol romp, to an intensely personal tale of the woes of young love made all the difference. Great works of art are not born complete but instead fine-tuned by hard work.

 

”Leevi & the Leavings” combines an homage to a legendary Finnish band with a coming of age history told against the backdrop of the most bittersweet pop you could ever imagine. A song which will make everyone with a melodic bone in their body dance around and sing along in a rush of euphoria. I´m afraid that the special character of the lyrics sung in their Swedish/Finnish dialect will be lost on almost everyone. However, for those of us who can appreciate it it´s absolutely sublime. I´ll leave it to you to find the earlier song it´s modelled on. 

 

”Nog var han en vän” is another re-work of the album. The original by ”Cats on fire” was called ”1914 and beyond” and was a song about European politics through the years, even incorporating verses about the Greek sovereing default and the Icelandic Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption in 2010. You decide which you think is best, I know what I think.

 

 

Of the closing 5 songs ”Stängningsdax” glows the brightest, while a few of the others lose tempo both musically and lyrically. In no way does this marr an extrordinary album of both musical and poetic freshness. This is a record that I will never ever tire of and that has combined qualities that goes way beyond it´s integral parts. And mind you, this is original music made by real musicians. Not something sampled and recombined by someone that knows computers.

Shortly after this album was released, Iiris Viljanen announced that she was quitting the group for undisclosed reasons. First making a record of piano work, she then released what could be called her proper solo debut, ”Mercedes”. A collection of idiosyncratic piano-based songs with lyrics even more personal. Chronicles of lost and mistaken love, somatic and mental health issues, intellect and emotion, nature and the urbane. Songs at the edge of the personal and emotional, while still being art instead of art mimicking life. A gift of an album that will continue to grow, made by an artist just beginning to find her feet.

Although I´m not prone to analysis geared by gender, I still think that these three records shows qualities dependent on the persons that made them. The ”Cats on fire” album is a prime example of what is considered contemporary indie pop, in most respects a male group endeavour. On the other side of the spectrum you have Iiris Viljanen´s very personal and emotional stories of modern life in our time, refracted through a singular and perceptive female mind. ”Vasas flora och fauna” is music made somewhere in between, keeping both the craft and the personal emotions. Smart as well as sincere words. Capitalizing on the long history of pop music as the vehicle of  ideas. Which of these records do you believe is my favourite? Yeah, I thought so.

I haven´t yet heard the new album by “Vasas flora and fauna”, but I´m sure it´s going to be something completely different.              

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…2017 w 50 – Album of the week is “Solnedgången” by Andreas Mattsson.

 

Singer, guitarist and songwriter of immensely influential band Popsicle, which started and finished the Swedish indie pop era between 1991 and 1999. With melodic sensibilites way above your average guitar rock band these guys carved out a special place for themselves during the 90´s, with a series of four albums that are timeless classics in the Swedish rock pantheon. My remembrances of seeing them live several times during these years are amongst my most precious concert memories ever. Intense, sweaty gigs, bobbing up and down in a tighly packed crowd filling small venues.  

 

After the demise of Popsicle, Andreas Mattsson continued as a songwriter and recorded an album with Swedish musician Niclas Frisk under the name “Sweet Chariots” in 2000. Their effort called “Beat based, song centered, spirit led” was an album of refined soulful pop, getting far less attention than warranted. So good and without a doubt worthy of a post of it´s own sometime. This is an album that I still frequently play when I´m in a good mood, marveling at the level of the songwriting and performances. “Sweet Chariots” was not intended to be however, and Andreas Mattsson turned to releasing solo material in 2006 and 2011, again sung in English and in a vein recognizable to the fans of Popsicle. Very well-crafted and melodic songs with lyrics chronicling day-to-day life and heartbreak. Again showing off his songwriting skills, these were albums containing some of the best tunes from an artist maturing like a good wine. A rare treat for those in the know.

 

Having had a career characterized by music and lyrics based on English and American templates, the decision to record an album with exclusively Swedish words seemed like an adventurous deviation from form. The tunes delivered were much smoother than what had been previously offered, as well as both emotionally stronger and closer to the bone, at least partly due to the use of his native tongue. Great songs, great sound and an air of maturity that´s very attractive. We all have these cherished artists that we´ve grown up with and whose parallell life and career trajectories we can identify with.  

 

Be sure to press the subtitles button on this video and you will get an at least acceptable translation of the beautiful Swedish lyrics. For me personally, so much to relate to.  

Christmas of 2016 was spent together with my parents and siblings in the northern part of Sweden where I grew up. Wanting to spend the New Years Eve with my wife in Iceland I flew from Luleå Airport to catch a connecting plane to Reykjavik. When the returning flight from Stockholm arrived, Andreas Mattson was one of the passengers, walking past me while I was waiting to board. I don´t think anyone but me recognized him. I would have liked to walk up and tell him how much I appreciate the music he has created over the years, but I didn´t. I would have liked to tell him that I consider him being the best Swedish songwriter of our generation, but I didn´t. I also would have liked to tell him how much I like his guitar-playing and singing, but I didn´t. Feeling a bit too much respect to bother the guy. Maybe just stupid, but so it goes.Ever since, the album has been on regular rotation, and you should check it out. It doesn´t get much better than this. 

 

…Imouto is mind-blowingly good.

Although it´s been around for some time, we haven´t so far managed to try this chef´s table little-sister of the fabulous Esperanto restaurant in Stockholm. Since Esperanto has been such a source of extraordinary culinary experiences through the years, the expectations were obviously very high. And I can tell you that they didn´t disappoint.

Arriving early we were quickly ushered up the stairs to the lounge for a glass of wonderful champagne. Then after a few sips swiftly invited to the secluded table with seats for 9 people, at the far corner of the Esperanto dining room. What followed was a seamless show of peerless presentations of seafood originating in the Nordic countries.

Imouto Stockholm

A wonderful selection of Otsumami was followed by a wide variety of nigiri, expertly prepared by the two Japanese chefs right in front of our eyes. Thinly slicing the fish, grating the wasabi, rolling the rice and combining it into one delicious bite was a treat to watch, and an even greater treat to taste. Everything was so fresh and delicious, creating oohs and aahs all around the table. After so many years of high-end restaurants, I don´t think I´ve ever tasted anything better than their langoustine. Just fantastic.

Delicious desserts followed, with the exclamation mark being the apple tarte. So good, and made even better by my wife getting an extra piece.

All this gorgeous food was accompanied by a selection of sake proposed by our very friendly head waiter. For me, a look into an enterily different universe of tastes, with just as much complexity and variety as the world of wine made from grapes. Definitely something to look into further.

I´m already longing to go back and do it all over again. Below is a scan of the menu for the evening in Swedish. If you want to read it in English that can be done here: Menu Imouto 2nd of December 2017

Imouto 171202

 

…2017 w 48 – Album of the week is “Över Bron” by Brända Barn.

Seminal punk group formed by singer Anders Brodin in the northern town of Sundsvall in 1979. Their first single released in 1980 contained three songs “Brända barn/Andra behov/Vänner jag hade glömt”, showing their rapid development from punk three-chorders to something else. Quickly becoming stars of their hometown and the Swedish post-punk landscape the band was one of the first and foremost groups of their time. I´m a very proud owner of their very first single, which can be seen and heard here.

 

The debut album saw the group developing their sound, exchanging punk for post-punk. “Allt står i lågor” released in 1983 was the defining moment of this band, with a slew of songs instantly becoming classics of the Swedish post-punk scene. Musically complex by the standards of the time and with a singer that was not only the voice of a generation, but also the Swedish iteration of the Ian Curtis franchise. Intense singers with a personal voice, postmodern lyrics and a band to match. These songs were amongst the greatest in the Swedish post-punk canon.

 

 

The band quit in 1984, stating the pressures on lead singer Anders Brodin as one of the reasons. Brodin continued making music in first “The Wild Bunch” and later “The Bunch”, playing amongst others a lauded cover of Neil Young´s “Hey hey my my”, a song that´s followed them to the present. Subsequent years saw the band reconvening for occasional concerts, playing the old material to enthusiastic crowds. That actually figures, since no-one in my generation has ever forgotten the power and punch of their original work. This was a group with a unique sound tapping into the zeitgeist of the 80´s.

Even taking that history into account, their re-emergence with new material in 2016 was still surprising and unexpected. Recorded and written with the assistance of Martin Rössel of “Dom Dummaste” fame, this is an album continuing their legacy with new songs sounding both contemporary and in line with their previous work. 80´s post-punk refracted through a late 2010+ lens.

Although with a more keyboard-based sound, the characteristic guitar work of Mikael Svensk is still instantly recognizable. They have probably mellowed somewhat with age and the album has a smoother feel than the music they produced over 30 years ago, which isn´t really that surprising. Their earlier lyrics were both edgier and more coloured by the sometimes slightly pretentious airs of the bands of the early 80´s. The new words might not be as hard-hitting as the old ones, but let´s not be overly analytical. This is very enjoyable stuff and actually much less tainted by nostalgia than could be expected.

 

Recycling definitely is the future. When it´s done this good it can actually be excused from the usual criticisms. For those of you interested, please get the original album “Allt står i lågor” and the superb compilation “Konfrontationer”. 

 

…2017 w 47 – Album of the week is “Sleep well beast” by “The National”.

 

Formed in Cincinatti, Ohio in the early 90´s, this band came into it´s own after moving to Brooklyn 1999. Their first album release went by pretty unrecognized, while second offering “Sad songs for dirty lovers” (2003) was what made me aware of their music. “Cardinal song” still stands out as my first contact with this unique group. So obviously something to watch out for.  

 

Further output included the “Cherry Tree” EP and the next album “Alligator”, released in 2005. Exhibiting songwriting and performances way above what they´ve previously achieved, this album was a game-changer turning the group into indie-rock favourites all over the board. Great songs and great performances, increasingly frantic and complex, firmly establishing the band as a force to respect and cherish.   

 

Next album “Boxer” (released 2007) further developed and in some ways mellowed their sound, as well as spawning the song “Fake Empire” of Barack Obama-fame. Turning indie-intensity to reflective modern day rock was in many ways the reason for this band´s rise from obscurity to greatness. While not generally commercially succesfull the songs created a place in contemporary music not filled by anybody else. And as always, the baritone voice and melodic sensibility of Matt Berninger led the way.

 

 

“High violet” released in 2010 was the album meant to break the group in larger circles and showed a level of quality combined with commercial appeal not previously present. Fantastic songs played by a band at the heights of their ability. The relative lack of public response to these superlative efforts were understandably discouraging, and the band was seen to take a deep breath while planning it´s future. How a group of musicians can produce songs like these without making a significant commercial impact says a lot about the state of the music industry. For a band that has spent their intellectual property making songs like these it´s not that easy to determine the best way forward.

 

 

Next album “Trouble will find me” (2013) chose to continue the history of strong songwriting and performances through a set of numbers building on the accomplishments of “High violet”. I have difficulty in understanding why this record had less of an impact than the previous one. Up to this point, I don´t believe that The National has made a more accomplished set of songs. While not universally considered one of their best, I still think this is one of the most skillful efforts of one of the best bands of their generation. The general feel of this record is of extremely gifted presentations of great songs by a group at the heights of their power. For once, the CD-booklet is actually put to good use by portraying unique contemporary artworks. I would absolutely be prepared to sever with a significant amount of money to own the Jessie Hanson piece “Time before, time after”.

 

 

While being their so far longest period between albums, the time until the release of latest effort “Sleep well beast” hasn´t been spent indolent. Different musical collaborations, movie scores and more has kept the members of the band busy. When the new record arrived it was without much fanfare and expectations on my part. Early listenings didn´t rock my world and I needed the nudging of my colleauge D to really discover the greatness of this album.   

The laid-back beginnings of “Nobody else will be there” followed by the U 2 guitar of “Day I die”. The intricate melodics of “Walk it back”, political significance disregarded, replaced by the anthemic “The system only dreams in total darkness”. I don´t think we´ve ever heard The National do such a simple but effective guitar riff. So sweet.

“Turtleneck” rocks out in a simple way that is not common for this not that simple band. “Guilty party” is one of their most beautiful tunes, with a complex rhythm only matched by the crystal clear melody line. I wish every song ever produced would be this good.

“Dark side of the gym” is in my opinion the guilty pleasure of this album. Sort of cheesy with both a verse and a chorus seriously romantic, while still lyrically odd. The fact that it is easy to play on an acoustic guitar only makes it better.

 

     

Liking this album that much made the first Swedish concerts by The National so much more interesting. They did two shows in Stockholm and I managed to attend the second, on Sunday 5th of November. Matt Berninger started off by stating that the previous night had been so much fun that tonight´s concert would have to be a “short and shitty show”. That ´s good. Always underpromise and overperform.

With a set-list heavy on the latest album but with so many of their earlier great songs it proved to be a fine compromise between the new and the old. While the playing was more than perfect, the singing compensated the technical difficulties of an increasingly hoarse Berninger with huge amounts of heart and soul. While not one of the best concerts in my life, this show is still hugely rememberable.

 

 

 

…Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in Stockholm ruled.

While following his career from the 70´s and onward, I do think that I know a thing or two about the art of Nick Cave. From the early attempts through the barely contained chaos of The Birthday Party, Nick Cave has forged an impressive artistic arch crafted from a few basic ingredients. One of them being the consistenly wonderful band “The Bad Seeds”, which has always been the coolest group of musicians around. While the Seeds has seen significant changes in personel through the years, they are still a peerless collective of contemporary players doing what they do best. The loss of Blixa Bargeld was hard, but not in any way detrimental to the overall sound. The change of artistic muse from Mick Harvey to Warren Ellis made things different but not necessarily worse. I´ve never ever seen anyone other than Ellis play the violin like Jimi Hendrix played the guitar.

Following a long series of extremely good and well crafted albums, I thought Nick Cave had a dip in production quality from 2001´s “No more shall we part” to 2008´s “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!”. “Push the sky away” from 2013 re-established the earlier focus and the songwriting continued to evolve. A truly remarkable album again centering Cave on the contemporary musical scene. The intensity of these songs made the follow-up “Skeleton Tree” initially feel a bit weak, at least to my ears during the first probably somewhat unfocused listenings. But this is definitely an album that grows on you, and is by now one of my absolute favourites by Cave.

The concert at Globen Arena in Stockholm on the 18th of October was my third time seeing Nick Cave live, but the first one backed by the Bad Seeds. And what a concert it was! A lot of the songs played was of course from the two latest albums, but here in even more beautiful and moving form. Nick singing extremely well and the band being as precise as only the Bad Seeds can be, going from beautiful piano balladry to absolute mayhem at the blink of an eye. Great versions of many of the old classics was also generously spread through the show – “From her to eternity”, “Tupelo”, “The ship song”, “The weeping song”, “The mercy seat”, “Red right hand” and more.

After finishing the show and being enthusiastically clapped in again, the band performed a scorching version of “Stagger Lee” that will not be easily forgotten. When the concert sadly had to end it was with a majestic final encore of “Push the sky away”, sung by Cave surrounded on the stage by at least a hundred audience members. I found it impossible not to walk away with a huge smile on my face. Truly a night to remember.

…Bourbon keeps being interesting – American whiskey tasting nr 11.

After forays into rye and malt whiskey, it´s time to return to Kentucky and a set of interesting bourbons.

Willett Pot Still Reserve, 94 proof (47%).

Willet pot still reserve

Coming from the Willett Distilling Company in Bardstown, Kentucky, we have yet another slightly convoluted backstory to this whiskey. The company was started in 1935 by Lambert Willett and several of his sons. After the death of Lambert his son Thompson took over responsibility of the company and served as president until 1984. Experience and knowledge of whiskey distillation went back much longer in the family, and their bourbons were made from family recipes from the late 19th century. In 1984 the facility was bought by Even G. Kulsveen, son-in-law of Thompson Willett, who together with his family runs the company today. Kulsveen renamed the company Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, initially bottling whiskey from existing reserves of barrels, since their own distilling facilities had been shut down in the beginning of the 1980´s. The company has since then been sourcing bourbon from other distillers, making a fairly large line of bottlings sometimes under fictitious company names. As of January 2012, the company again has distilling capabilities and is returning to calling themselves the Willett Distilling Company.

This particular whiskey is made from a distillate of unknown origin (even if the Heaven Hill distillery has been named as a suspect), and I´ve managed to find no information about the mash bill. Each bottle comes from a single barrel of new white oak, after having matured for 8 – 10 years. My particular one was number 67 of 110 from barrel number 7 077.

The whiskey shows a pleasantly glowing amber colour. On the nose you get a beginning of sweetness and vanilla, followed by some spice, orange peel and fleeting notes of eucalyptus. Neat in a tasting glass the mouthfeel is medium bodied with a light start of corn turning more complex in the middle, where wood, citrus and spice gives way to a fairly long finish dominated by oak. In a tumbler with ice you get notes of banana and chocolate both on nose and palate.

The bottle deserves special mention. A 1,75 liter giant formed as a pot still. Very unique and stylish and something I´m going to keep as a decanter. To sum it up, a very nice and complex whiskey that would be fun to try again sometime.

Jim Beam Black, 86 proof (43%).

Jim Beam Black

Here we have a producer with a long and winding history beginning in the late 18th century, after members of the Böhm family emigrated from Germany to Kentucky. Changing their name to Beam, seven generations has been involved in the distillation of Kentucky bourbon as well as being Master Distillers at the famous Heaven Hill Distillery. Later acquired by Japanese company Suntory, this is one of the giants in the whiskey business, with many different products in their inventory.

This variety of Jim Beam bourbon boasts of being triple aged, which means that it´s matured in barrels for 6 years, three times the requisite two year aging needed for the “straight bourbon” epithet. The version I´m writing about is for the international market, the US Jim Beam Black is actually aged for 8 years.

Deep amber colour. The nose shows corn, caramel, vanilla and some wood. Neat in a tasting glass there´s a start of caramel and vanilla, changing into toasted oak and spice in the middle which carries on into a short finish of slightly adstringent wood. In a tumbler with ice the wood on the nose becomes stronger, and the taste shifts into much sweeter vanilla and caramel notes, finishing on sweetness instead of oak. Not that much to say about the bottle, it´s instantly recognizable as Jim Beam and as such serves its purpose well.

In my opinion superior to their regular 4 year old bourbon. Very nice and smooth, balancing the usual bourbon sweetness with it’s somewhat dry, woody character. Nothing stellar, but competent and honest.

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 100 proof (50%).

Knob Creek Bourbon

Aiming at restoring bourbon to its pre-prohibition splendor, this drink goes a long way towards achieving its goal. The mash bill contains the 51% corn regulated by law, along with an undisclosed percentage of rye and malted barley. Pure, limestone-filtered water together with a proprietary yeast strain is used during fermentation, and “set back” (mash from previous distillations) is added twice at different stages of production. It´s then double distilled and aged for 9 years in heavily charred barrels of new American oak, at an initial proof of 125. For the finished bottle a selection of small batches stored at different locations in the warehouse is blended to assure an even quality.

The colour is a radiant, dark gold amber. The nose is big and bold, with loads of maple syrup, burnt sugar, caramel and strong oak notes. Neat in a tasting glass (I´m discounting three drops of water) you get less of an alcohol kick than could be expected at this proof. There´s a big, chewy mouthfeel to this whiskey, beginning with sweet maple syrup and caramel turning into spice, toasted oak and wood resin at the middle, with a long and lingering finish of dry oak. In a tumbler with ice it manages to retain the big nose with a slant towards oak instead of sweetness. On the other hand, the palate turns sweeter and slightly less complex.

The bottle is square and chunky in a very distinct way, and along with the label recreates pre-prohibition bourbon bottles. The plastic/cork stopper and wax seal also aims at a higher degree of sophistication. Personally, I must confess to quite liking it.

A really well made and distinctive bourbon with lots of character and punch. I´ve enjoyed this immensely and would very much like to try the single barrel variety and their other products.

 John Medley´s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 80 proof (40%).

John Medley Bourbon

One of the cheapest bourbons available in Sweden, with not that much information to find out about the distillers. Made from a mash bill of 51% corn and 49% barley you can´t really accuse the makers of John Medley´s of being that original. What we get is a pretty traditional Kentucky Straight Bourbon, but with a much longer barrel aging than necessary.

A medium amber colour. The nose has oak, caramel and vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass it gives a smooth and mild impression of caramel, vanilla and some oak, with a short and quite unremarkable finish. In a tumbler with ice much of its to begin with pretty mild character is diluted and you end up with something rather anonymous. The bottle just as the whiskey is a no-frills square and chubby variety without any unique design features.

A whiskey well worth its admittedly low price, but too lacking of character to merit another tasting.

Maker´s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 90 proof (45%).

Makers mark

Many years of tradition lies behind this whiskey, which has a definitive edge its own. Clear, limestone water combined with a mash bill of 70% corn, 16 % wheat and 14% barley. Replacing rye with red winter wheat making this what is called a wheated bourbon. First introduced in 1958 this whiskey has a long history, and is one of the staples of American whiskey production.

Golden amber colour. A nose dominated by oak, caramel and vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass you get a well balanced combination of caramel, vanilla, spice and oak. In a tumbler with ice much of the complexity is lost, and a dominating sweetness takes over.

The bottle is both distinctive and unique, with its square format and wax seal. One of the true originals and a whiskey I would like to always have in my liquor cabinet.