Category Archives: Music

…the death of Freddie Wadling is the end of an era in Swedish music.

First Lou Reed died in 2013, followed by David Bowie and Prince in 2016. Cultural giants with unsurpassed careers leaving a legacy previously unheard of. Bowie was an especially hard blow considering the extremely high quality of his latest output, equalling some of the best music from his over 50 year dominance of pop. The world of music will never be the same again.

Here in Sweden 2016 saw the demise of two personal heroes. First Olle Ljungström, who on a number of more or less classical albums presented a series of often depraved slices of life. Witty, quirky, intelligent and always with a wry sense of humour. Although his death had been heralded for some time, after years of hard living and diabetes, it still came as a sad surprise. The smart voices are so few and the white noise so loud.

Despite even worse health problems for many years, the death of Freddie Wadling on the 2nd of June 2016 was even more shocking. While not well-known outside Sweden, Freddie has been around forever and has had a career unlike any other Swedish musician. Beginning his tour de force in punk group “Liket Lever” with enduring classic “Levande begravd”, Freddie entered the Swedish music scene out of left field with a fully formed voice completely his own.

Seminal band Cortex delivered an updated version of Wadling´s musical concerns with the debut album “Spinal Injuries”. While largely ignored at the time of release, it has since become a sleeper classic in the Swedish post-punk annals. Great songs and unique performances. Queasy words and well-chosen options of delivery. Lyrically intense and musically diverse, this is a debut album that has kept remarkably well through the years, as well as premiering what is probably their best known song.

Several incarnations of Cortex followed, as well as stints in other bands, before Freddie took the next step in his career forming the fabulous “Blue for Two”, together with producer and keyboard player Henryk Lipp. Probably the best group of the Swedish mid-80´s with a totally unique sound. An intense, mutated and moody electronic rock firmly anchored in the bluesy voice of Freddie Wadling, carried along by the razor sharp synth arrangements by Lipp. Their first two albums, “Blue for Two” (1986) and “Songs from a pale and bitter moon” (1988), are still amongst my all time favourites. I have strong memories of seeing them live during this period and being absolutely blown away by the force of their performance.

From the 90´s and onward, Freddie´s career took yet a new direction, when he launched himself as a solo artist, releasing several celebrated albums of both Swedish standards and songs specially written for him by an array of contemporary Swedish artist. Coming from the punk underground and known for his lurid interests and hard living, the appeal that his later albums has had to a broader audience must have come as something of a surprise. By then severe health problems (including a liver transplant) had changed Freddie from young energetic rocker to an aged representation of frailty and vulnerability. Typically dragging himself across the stage to the waiting chair, supported by his signature wooden cane. But once seated, with a stack of song lyrics on his lap, he could still unleash that wonderful voice. No one like him will ever be seen or heard again.

…2016 w 25 – Album of the week is “Patch the sky” by Bob Mould.

Bob MouldOne of the true rock´n´roll heroes, beginning his career in hugely influential band Hüsker Du in the late 70´s. Over just a few years developing from unruly punk/hardcore to melodic, guitar-based alternative rock with songs to die for. Getting such a big sound out of a three-piece band was really impressive, as well as the dual singer and songwriter arrangement. Channeling Beatles-like melodic sensibilities through the brute-force of punk-derived indie-rock gave this band an indelible and enduring legacy that remains to our day. Having released six albums of ever improving quality, this was and still is an important group.

 

Hüsker Du acrimoniously disbanding in the late 80´s gave way to a first period of solo work from Bob Mould, before forming the band Sugar in 1992. The next three years saw the release of three albums, with debut “Copper Blue” being the most artistically and commercially successful. In many ways a continuation of the ideas of Hüsker Du, while still allowing Mould to develop his songwriting in a slightly lighter and more poppy direction.

 

After Sugar I sort of lost track of Bob Mould for a couple of years, like you sometimes do when more interesting things are happening. But then this album came along, with not only good reviews but also great songs. Melodic, catchy and personal. Not a sensation in any way, but still distilling what we´ve gotten to know as the Bob Mould sound into a record that feels both new and instantly recognizable.

 

…2016 w 24 – Album of the week is “Pop Crimes” by Rowland S. Howard.

Rowland S HowardWithout a doubt one of the most influential guitarists of our time, Rowland S Howard started his career in Melbourne, Australia as part of the nascent punk scene with his group The Young Charlatans. Writing what some consider his most well-known song “Shivers” as a mere 16-year old, he became one of the formative members of legendary band The Birthday Party, as they morphed from their earlier incarnation as The Boys Next Door. While Howard wanted to do the vocals himself, Nick Cave pulled rank as the singer of the group and did his own version. Originally thought out as a song about the strongly felt but rapidly changing and risible feelings of emotionally instable teenagers, it was initially banned from air-play because of the mention of suicide in the lyrics. Later it became a strange and uncharacteristic hit from a band that went on to alienate everyone looking for easy pop.

 

Moving from Australia to London, The Birthday Party developed into one of the most important bands of the post-punk movement, with an intensity and aggression still unsurpassed. The extremely original guitar sound that Howard developed during this period, partly based on the MXR Blue Box effects pedal, had never been heard before and was in some ways a perfect foil to Nick Caves powerful vocals. After moving to Berlin, The Birthday Party gradually turned into a vehicle for the ideas of singer Cave, and the group imploded in 1983. The split gave birth to Crime and the City Solution, fronted by Howard, as well as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Superb live work from both bands feature in Wim Wenders´ classic movie “Wings of Desire”. Such a perfect rendition of Howard´s stage presence and Nick Cave´s intensity, backed by Blixa Bargeld and genius multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey.

 

 

While The Bad Seeds was and still is extremely successful, Howard´s bands (including These Immortal Souls) largely remained a concern for the initiated. Finally taking the step from groups to a solo career, Howard released his first own record with 1999´s “Teenage Snuff Film”, recorded with old comrade Mick Harvey. An immensely enjoyable album of high-quality songs with the trade-mark Rowland S Howard guitar sound and his droll, intelligent and humorous lyrics.

 

 

After a hard life of substance abuse Howard was left suffering from hepatitis C, ultimately developing into liver cancer. The recording of “Pop Crimes” proved to be his last, and Rowland S Howard passed away in December 2009, some two months after the release of the album, still waiting for the liver transplant he so desperately needed.

This is one of those great records that fairly few has heard of. It´s reach goes from the euphoric pop of starter “(I know) A girl called Jonny” to the intensely emotional end-of-relation chronicle “Shut you down”. Title track “Pop crimes” perfectly showcases his guitar technique, expressive but still somehow restrained. All about heart and soul over technique. Closer “The golden age of bloodshed” is just so good and one of my favourite songs of the year.

Although aged beyond his years by hard living and disease, Howard still kept his impeccably elegant airs. Dark suit and white shirt, pale chiselled features, black crop of hair and the obligatory cigarette hanging from his red lips. Staggering across the stage while yanking the whammy bar of his trusted Fender Jaguar, face enveloped by a cloud of cigarette smoke. A rock star look to beat all other rock star looks.

I think it´s absolutely great that he got to end his career with a work like this. The product of a rare and singular mind fully exploring his particular brand of genius. Great songwriting, lyrically vital and with guitar playing out of this world. Please listen to this, and if your appetite is whetted watch the “Autoluminescent” documentary that´s available on DVD. They don´t make them like this anymore. Respect, and thanks for all the music.

…2015 w 11 – Album of the week is “New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84)” by Simple Minds.

Simple MindsSometimes opportunity knocks. Despite not being the hottest act around anymore, it´s still pretty unlikely that Scottish band Simple Minds would do a concert in my relatively small Swedish hometown of Orebro. Still, this is exactly what happened tonight. The show being a mix of new material and old classics, I must confess to letting my mind wander a bit during the newer stuff, while immensely appreciating the numbers forever ingrained into my musical DNA. A professional performance enjoyed by an audience mostly consisting of pot-bellied men with graying and receding hairlines. No disrespect there since I must without a doubt be considered one of them.

Forming in Glasgow as Johnny & The Self-Abusers in 1977, the group quickly changed focus and appeared as Simple Minds with debut album “Life in a day” (1979). New-wave pop dominated by guitars and catchy melodies didn´t really take them anywhere. With echoes from both Magazine and early Roxy Music the album was rich with talent, and as one of fairly few in Sweden who got hold of it early on I still like it very much.

“Real to Real Cacophony” (1979) was released later the same year and showed the first signs of Simple Minds being a band interested in something more than easy pop. The sound being distinctly electronic and the songs more complex, the album ushered in an era of experimentation that wouldn´t stop until the stadium years much later. Next album “Empires and Dance” (1980) developed the band´s sound further into the realm of the more listenable part of the synthesized avant garde, coupled with the burgeoning electronic dance music, rich with melodies and motorik rhythms.

Bringing the group´s talents and diverse influences to fruition, twin albums “Sons and fascination” and “Sister Feelings call” enforced the band´s position as the composite of art rock, avant garde electronics and modern dance music. Belive me, at this point in time listening to Simple Minds was hearing the cutting-edge sniffing at the outskirts of the commercial. So many years later I still remember these albums as important pieces of contemporary culture. Both immensely influential and extremely enjoyable.

New Gold DreamEvery important band has a greatest moment, and “New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84) was this one´s. An instant classic that refined the essence of the group not only to a selection of formidable songs but into a cohesive album of rare beauty and sophistication. When it was released in 1982 nothing sounded as good as this record. Containing an unbeatable row of extraordinary songs, the album displayed the ultimate maturation of everything that had ever been good about Simple Minds. Based on both soulful and funky grooves, these numbers glittered and glimmered with a fresh and seductive melodic modernity that very few could resist. More than 30 years later this music still feels timelessly great.

While follow-up “Sparkle in the rain” (1984) contained several great songs, it ushered in the next phase of the band where stadium bombast displaced artful finesse. From this point on my interest was lost and never regained.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…2015 w 10 – Album of the week is “Double life” by The Moodists.

The Moodists are one of Australian rock music´s best kept secrets. Formed around the nucleus of Dave Graney, Clare Moore and Steve Miller, as Adelaide punk band The Sputniks moved to Melbourne in the early eighties. The addition of bass player Chris Walsh created the original line-up, later enhanced by guitarist Mick Turner. After two singles for the Au go go label the band relocated to London, releasing seven track mini-LP “Engine shudder” (1983),  followed by debut album proper “Thirsty´s Calling” (1984). Despite some critical acclaim not much happened commercially, and as many other Australian bands their time in London was one of abject poverty.

In today´s light “Thirsty´s Calling” could be seen as the record where the Moodists developed their sound, together with producer Victor Van Vugt who would follow the band through their entire career. Mini-LP “Double Life” (1985) was followed by three 12″ EP´s (“Justice and money too”, “Take the red carpet out of town” and “The Moodists”), before the band finally gave up in 1987, with couple Graney and Moore embarking on a diverse career of semi-solo work.

My own discovery of the group was through “Thirsty´s Calling”, which had received generally favourable reviews in the British musical press. With a sprawling rock ´n´roll aesthetic based on prominent bass guitar and Dave Graney´s highly original singing, this was a band with a vision of their own. A collection of idiosynchratic and intense songs creating a sonic landscape all their own.

“Double Life” was made up of equal parts new songs and previously released single material. Made without much attempts at producing and mixing, this still proved to be one of the group´s most enduring moments. Opening song “Double Life” was perhaps the band´s most focused effort ever, with a thudding bass line leading the song through minimal beginnings to discordant disarray and back again. “Enough legs to live on” makes a similar journey through barely controlled chaos. “Chevrolet rise” builds and builds into a beautiful junk sculpture which might just be the most melodic song of the album. “That´s how you´ll cry” and “Can´t lose her” connected to the band´s roots while emulating their earlier sound. Closer “Six dead birds” managed to take everything that was great about this band pushing it forward. A record encapsulating the essence of The Moodists.

The following series of 12″ EP´s lightened the sound and turned the band into a slightly more poppy direction, with the inclusion of former Orange Juice members and horn arrangements from Louise Elliot of The Laughing Clowns, without creating any  commercial success to speak of. Petering out, The Moodists transformed into the various vehicles for Dave Graney and Clare Moore. Yet a unique and influential band largely lost to the digital age. Although compilation double CD “Two fisted art” is heavy on early releases and live stuff, the last chapter of the band is missing. For this you´ll have to go vinyl.

…2015 w 9 – Album of the week is “My Houdini” by Tactics.

TacticsLet´s continue in Australia with a group of totally uncompromising musicians. Tactics were formed in Canberra in 1977 and relocated to Sydney in 1978. Probably the most willfully obscure band of their generation, they found a distinct and clear voice through the singular mind of founding and only consistent member David Studdert. Very few rock musicians can boast a career spanning several critically noted albums of absolutely unique and original material, as well as a PhD in Sociology (Conceptualising Community, 2005). The combination of a stubborn refusal to conform to norms of contemporary rock clichés and a fierce will to be different created a truly spectacular body of work. That said, the fact that they were largely ignored by the music industry really doesn´t matter.

During their active years Tactics released four original albums, as well as a live one and a singles compilation. None of these were commercially successful and today can only be found second hand. Spotify has nothing, regrettably revealing the sometime lack of history of the download generation.

My own exposure to this band started with a glowing review of their debut “My Houdini” (1980) in a British music journal . Despite much searching the album proved unavailable in Sweden at the time, but remained at the back of my mind for a long time until I found their single “Committee of love” in a record store bargain bin. Totally blown away I set out to explore the body of work that this band had accomplished, through a set of later released CD-compilations. “The sound of the sound vol 1 & 2” collected all the group´s studio albums as well as rarities and selected live stuff. In addition to uniquely great music you get the most fascinating booklets ever made for a career spanning retrospective.

My Houdini“My Houdini” is in my opinion one of the greatest debut albums ever made. Despite its difficult gestation nothing can disguise the quality and vision of the songwriting and playing on display. Feverish, frantic guitars and rhythms coupled by shrill vocals with lyrics chronicling the experience of settlers discovering the plight of the subdued indigenous population. In so many ways a remarkable album of mature songs. While the lyrical content explored the murky waters of colonialist angst, the music went way further into an antipodean take on post-modern rock. Studdert allowed nothing that sounded like anything else to creep into his music. Isolated and insular for sure, frenetic and focused definitely, lyrical and literate unmistakably. Although largely lost in pop music history, do what you have to do to listen to these dispatches from the buried country.

…2015 w 8 – Album of the week is “Tales of the unexpected” by The Lighthouse Keepers.

Lighthouse keepersThe early eighties was a formidable time for Australian rock music and loads of fantastic bands came to prominence during these years. While many were creatively outstanding only a few reached commercial success. This great band was one of those who didn´t. Not that it matters much when they were able to write such great songs.

Formed in Sydney in 1981, their country-tinged pop went against the grain in a city where the indie music scene were heavily influenced by The Stooges. First single “Gargoyle” wasn´t released until 1983, and cut through the noise of contemporary Sydney bands with chiming guitars, delicious melodies and a great vocal performance. Just remember, music videos still were very much in their infancy at the time.

Next release, the EP “The Exploding Lighthouse Keepers”, expanded the band´s sound with instruments like brass and showed guitarist/vocalist Greg Appel as an already accomplished songwriter. Sounds surprisingly good even today, despite being recorded mostly live in the studio.

Tales of the unexpectedDebut record “Tales of the unexpected” (1984) turned out to be the band´s only original album,  followed by the compilation “Imploding” (1986) containing mostly early material, released around the time the group disbanded. “Tales” continued the band´s jangling guitar sound coupled with the very special vocals of Juliet Ward, over a diverse set of 14 songs that´s quite uplifting despite frequently leaning towards the melancholy. Even though it´s a slightly uneven album, with some ups and downs in the songwriting, there´s certainly greatness to be found here. In their best moments when everything comes together, both the music and the vocals has a certain fragility that´s immensely beautiful and enjoyable. Like a soap bubble in midair only needing a light poke to disintegrate.

The album is long deleted but can be found second hand on sites like Discogs. There´s two CD compilations around, “Lip Snipe Groin” and “Ode to nothing”, also not that easy to get hold of. The easiest way of listening to these wonderful songs is probably Spotify.