Category Archives: Music

…2018 w 24 – Album of the week is “A secret wish” by Propaganda.

 

Propaganda band picture

Nobody put their mark on contemporary pop music in the mid-80´s like Trevor Horn did. Establishing his record company ZZT (Zang Tumb Tumb, getting the name from a sound poem by Italian futurist Marinetti), Horn made history with releases from ABC, The Buggles and most of all Frankie Goes to Hollywood. A creative powerhouse using the best talent around enhanced by the cutting edge technology of the time. Much of this is part of musical history, and as such impervious classics. Propaganda was probably the most unique group that this hotter than hot label was able to get their hands onto.

Formed in Dusseldorf in 1982 it took until 1985 for their first records to be released. Landmark album “A secret wish” was produced by Stephen Lipson under the auspices of Trevor Horn. While more than 30 years old today, this is a collection of songs that went way beyond what was expected of pop music at the time, and still does today. I have very fond memories of getting this record on vinyl at first release, and have been listening to it occasionally ever since. So many years later this still sounds like modern music pushing the envelope.

Opener “Dream within a Dream” builds around a spoken poem by Edgar Allan Poe, and in it´s original version delivers 8 minutes of dreamy pop melodies with mutating bubbling rhythms. Not many bands would dare to have this piece of music as the first track of their first album. Every time I listen to it I´m just as mesmerized as the first time in 1985. There´s not that much around that beats this one as an opening track. Melody, atmosphere, the propulsive beats and a certain amount of drama made this an instant classic.

“The murder of love” went further into the budding electro-pop territory with timeless verses and chorus, as well as a oddly fitting instrumental part of jazzy guitar. The evil twins of “Jewel/Duel” juxtapositioned the same song as both abrasive dark electronica and melodic electronic pop. Very few bands could write a chorus like that, as well as executing it as seemingly effortless as is done here.

 

p:Machinery went all in when it came to ecstatic synthesized pop, with an ear-worm faux-brass riff never to be forgotten. Absolutely impossible to sit still when this one blasts from the speakers. Great melody coupled with throbbing rhythms. Full of dark joy and flow.

The choice of covers also defines a group, and the decision to remake classic Josef K song “Sorry for laughing” was as well made as the song itself. There´s both novelty and adherence to the original in this version. Great music put through a time-warp and coming out as something unexpectedly shiny and new.

“Dr Mabuse (First Life)” was a rework of their first single, the obvious Fritz Lang references setting the tone. Done in several different mixes, but on the original album concentrated and concise. Sprung from one of the band´s oldest songs that over a period of time metamorphosed into this glowing gem.

“The Chase”, slowly flowing with dreamy melodies starts the winding down of the album, ending with “The last Word (Strength to Dream)”. An instrumental piece finishing “A secret wish” just as it begun, with Susanne Freytag reciting the opening lines of the Poe poem.

Shortly after the vinyl release, a CD-version appeared with an additional song, remixes and a slightly different running order. The thing to go for today is of course the Deluxe 2010 2 disc reissue, with all the material from both the original vinyl and CD´s, as well as an entire disc´s worth of wonderful extra material. If nothing else a good way of getting the exclusive “Do well” cassette songs from 1985.

Although the band came to a slightly messy end, this album lives on as their legacy. A dark and exciting excursion into what electronic pop could have become, that succeeded in being both art and entertainment. The music complemented by the artwork, stylish black and white imagery of the band, the sense of mystery and of course the at the time shocking Baader-Meinhof quote. A must have in every record collection.

 

 

 

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…2018 w 11 – Album of the week is “Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls”.

 

What´s actually spinning on your turntable any given week is very much up to sudden changes in mood, or the usual game of association. This week we´re going way back to 1980, which saw the release of an exceptional album that´s haunted me through the years.

Forming the band “Penetration” in 1976 Pauline Murray was a vanguard of the punk movement in her part of Britain, and made herself a name as an incendiary singer, songwriter and artist. Releasing  two studio albums under the “Penetration” name she later continued her career as a vehicle for the visions of Factory Records demon producer Martin Hannett, as part of the Invisible Girls.

Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls

With songs written by Murray and ex-Penetration boyfriend Robert Blamire the band also incorporated musicians from The Durutti Column and Buzzcocks, as well as the cutting-edge productional skills of Martin Hannett. It´s hard to remember anything he was involved with during these years that seriously failed. My huge respect for Hannett is embarrassing enough to own an album consisting only of experimental sounds used or not used for the early Joy Division records.

 

 

Apart from his reputation as unwordly maverick sound genious he was also known as a hard-core addict of alcohol, heroin and all other substances under the sun, ultimately leading to his too early demise in 1991. However, before that Hannett was involved in so much of the best music of his time. A record being produced by Martin Hannett made someone like me buy it totally unheard, which made me a proud owner of the first Stone Roses 12″ “So Young/Tell me”. Not much there to indicate future success.

 

 

“Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls” is an album of only great songs, delivered and produced flawlessly by fantastic musicians and a producer at the top of his game. I rember very well the feeling of this album hitting the music scene. No commercial appeal to talk of but artistically just so good. An album to be listened to again and again. Even though the vinyl version is the Holy Grail, the CD re-release contains later singles that also needs to be heard. Here´s great songs in fantastic arrangements. A continuos sonic fellow since 1980 that will never go away. Listen and be in awe.

…2018 w 10 – Album of the week is “Kinder Versions” by Mammút.

Mammut Kinder Versions

Released in 2017 this is the latest record from Icelandic band Mammút formed in 2003, this being their 4th album so far. The fact that singer Katrina Mogensen is the daughter of Kukl-alumni Birgir Mogensen matters less than you might think, while still anchoring the group firmly in the Icelandic indie rock succession order . Although fiercly and wholly original, some aspects of their overall sound probably owes something to the legacy of The Sugarcubes. Echoes of the vocal style of early Björk appear in some of the songs, which is not a bad thing if you´re asking me. For example, title song “Kinder Versions” could easily have been an alternative universe follow-up to the third Sugarcubes 12″ “Deus”. I´m not sure that the band enjoys this type of comparison, but for me it´s amongst the highest possible praise.

This song also delivers some of the gradually developing dramaticism perfected by Australian band The Triffids, in the case of Mammút bubbling under the surface creating an intoxicating mix of tension and restraint.

I got this record shortly after it´s release, but haven´t had it on heavy rotation until recently procuring their album nr 2 and 3, which by the way are also absolutely great. There are many bands with technically proficient musicians able to play almost anything imaginable , but fewer who are also good at choosing exactly what is necessary to convey the feeling of the song without overloading the sound.

I really like this collection of evocative and emotional songs. Accessible as well as serious, accomplished while still often sounding deceptively simple. Filled with drama, beauty and dissonance.

A group well worth discovering if you haven´t already. I so much hope to be able to see them live on some future trip to Iceland.

…2018 w 09 – Album of the week is “Choir of the mind” by Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton.

Emily Haines

Musical wunderkind of great Canadian group “Metric” as well as an important part of supergroup “Broken Social Scene”, Emily Haines also has a career singing her own songs under the name “Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton”. Soft spoken and piano-based, this is stuff that´s both high-quality and with a deeply original voice. Although what I like the most about Emily Haines is her melodic quirkiness and musical prowess, it´s difficult not to be affected by the cover picture of the artist in glowing blue dress holding a black baseball bat with orange rubber gloves. Empowerment, musical competence and attitude as well as a play on her obvious physical beauty is very much a part of her allure. However, nothing of this can reduce the punch of her original songs.

Please check her out and be prepared to be blown away. What is considered to be the fringes holds so many great things.

 

…2018 w 07 – Album of the week is “How the west was won” by Peter Perrett.

 

Peter-Perrett-How-The-West-Was-Won

Maverick singer and songwriter of late 70´s early 80´s band “The Only Ones” Peter Perrett had his moment of relative fame before retreating into substance abuse and squalor. If you haven´t already done so, go check out their three officially released albums, and also the one of a kind compilation of their BBC performances called “Darkness & light”. Exceptional stuff not receiving the accolades deserved at the time. While sometimes considered a part of the nascent punk scene this was a band firmly rooted in old time rock `n`roll. Personally I think of Peter Perrett as Johnny Thunder´s intelligent big brother. Be that as it may.

 

The recurrence of Peter Perrett in a piece of music that´s actually really good is very surprising, since most fans had him down for the count long ago. After a few lacklustre albums through the years, the new one is the first actually rekindling his old fire in a way making things interesting.

 

That an old junkie semi-rockstar genius from the 70´s and 80´s would even live to old age is pretty unlikely. That he would record an album of really good songs together with his kids (not because they´re his kids, but because they´re actually good musicians) is very rare. However, this is what we have here. “How the west was won” by Peter Perrett. Go check it out.

 

…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.              

…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.