Category Archives: Album of the week

…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. 

 

…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.

 

 

 

…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.