I know quite a bit about Swedish indie pop between 1988 and 2013, but what about the 8 years between then and now? I realize I don’t know a lot at all!
It has been a while since I last blogged! It’s weird how life seems to pull you in all directions, but I’m paying for a domain so I might as well blog more often, right?
I have been thinking of Swedish indie pop lately. It’s got a pretty storied history. North of No South Records (abbr. NONS) put together a compilation back in 2006 called “Svensk Indie 1988-2006 (En Kärleks Historia)”, and it’s a really comprehensive look at the greatest hits of Swedish indie, starting with The Happydeadmen and finishing at The Concretes. Of course, it’s been 15 years since 2006, so what’s happened in between that’s to look out for?
Truth is, it’s pretty hard to tell. I can think of examples here and there but the aughts were almost a golden age for Swedish indie, thanks to Jens Lekman, Club 8, Cloudberry Jam and more. The international outreach was insane, and each band had plenty of fans abroad. Unfortunately, it seems like around 2013 the output of these groups started to die down. Thankfully, there was a compilation released last year that helps illuminate those CDr years: “Nice Try, Sunshine!” I recently purchased my own copy of this compilation and am really excited to dig in. These are deep cuts!
Einar Ekström of La Futur Pompiste (and The Garlands) released an album last year with Siri af Burén of Testbild! called “The Bewildered Mind”, under the name Astral Brain. It was released on Shelflife Records, which is fantastic. The label was my first avenue for Swedish music (like The Shermans).
Alternatively, the label A West Side Fabrication is very much still active, their latest summary of music in the link provided. But I’ll be honest, I’m not familiar with their recent output, just the classics: Mary-Go-Round, Holger Danske, Livingstone etc.
So, then, I’ll return to this new label: Appetite. They’ve only had two releases thus far, but I’m really anticipating what else is to come from them. They’re based in Gothenburg. Co-founder Hugo Randulv is in a lot of varied bands that I’ll have to look into, too.
Looks like this is going to be a brief post! I can hardly think of any other examples. I’ll open it up to you, readers: what great Swedish music have you been listening to lately?
Alternatively, I’m wondering what it takes to be a music fan, or what kinds of music enthusiasts there are. I listen to a lot more older releases than newer ones. Will that scale ever tip? When it does, I’ll know more about the topic of this blog post, and I’ll make pt. 2!
In 2017, I was a Sophomore in college, spurred by the euphoria of spring to drop out of school and live elsewhere for a bit. It ended up being a rough year, but that spring remains one of the loveliest times of my life. I skinned my knee trying to skateboard, listened to Deee-lite in a sweaty dormroom, and ate Cocoa Pebbles every single morning.
But where would I be without March Records’ 2006 compilation “Moshi Moshi (Pop International Style)”? The companion piece to “Pop American Style” had two hours of new sounds and fell into my lap at the perfect time, introducing me to 800 Cherries, The Cherry Orchard, Club 8, Girlfrendo, The Shermans and more. I was specifically captivated, however, by Swan Dive‘s “Breezeway”. It seemed to perfectly summarize the summery mood I was in. And I was falling in love to boot, so everything about it felt perfect to me.
That year ended up wiping the smile off my face, regrettably. And it wasn’t until I fell in love again last year that Swan Dive popped back up on the radar. Now thoroughly versed in bossa pop, their U.S. compilation (of the releases Circle, Wintergreen, etc.) hit me like a wave, and I knew I had to listen to everything else from the group.
Bill DeMain is a powerhouse of a songwriter, and “June” is the perfect showcase for his talents, celebrating its 20th anniversary today, June 3rd. In the live performance accompanying the anniversary (which I will link below), Bill talks about the album and the people who worked on it with him. I ended up learning a lot here, finding out I already knew some of those talented songwriters and performers!
Starting from the second track is “Truly, Madly, Deeply”, a song that came out of an invitation from the incredible Marshall Crenshaw to fill out a melody that Crenshaw had written. This perfect end-of-summer song feels like a gentle sigh on its verses, despite its cheery and bittersweet chorus. Hate to say it, but it beats out Savage Garden for the name. Next comes two Jill Sobule co-written songs, “One-Sided” and “Go With Love”. These songs enter into the more melancholy, which you can easily guess from the titles. Jill is an artist I’m only now exploring, but both songs speak so much to her talent. Her work with Bill is incredible. The lounge pop sound on “One-Sided” puts it as one of my favorites on the album. Catch that Wanderley organ sound?
Now come some surprises. I had no idea Bill worked with both Boo Hewerdine and Gary Clark of The Bible and Danny Wilson, respectively! Boo co-penned “Mountains”, “Have You Ever Been in Love” and “My Mistake”, while Gary’s sole credit on this album is “Katydids”. The album truly shines in these songs, the childish nostalgia embodied in “Katydids” is also apparent in “Have You Ever Been in Love”. On the other hand, “Mountains” and “My Mistake” enter truly gutwrenching territory. I’m thankful it didn’t, but if this album followed one of my messier break-ups, these songs would be all-too-perfect.
Still a surprise to be had: Pat Sansone of Wilco and Jenifer Jackson worked on that stellar tune “Safe and Sound” with Bill. The versions on “Words You Whisper” show just how beloved this song is, a light bossa tune with chanson influence creeping in on vocalist Molly Felder‘s French chorus. Both musicians are new to me (surprisingly), and I’m excited to see Jenifer had a release on both Bar None Records and Parasol Records (some of the greatest indie music from Illinois comes from that wonderful college town of Champaign-Urbana).
That’s not all, however. Kelley Ryan, who I’m unfamiliar with, starts the record spectacularly with “Girl on a Wire”, something I wish I heard on MTV as a kid (it easily would have changed my life as it had done now). Brad Jones forms the backbone of this album’s songwriting with Bill, heard in “Automatically Sunshine”, “Kaleidoscope”, “Augustine” and “Puzzle Ring” on the Japanese release. Love songs and songs about spring will always shoot me past the moon, but Bill and Brad’s work on “Augustine” is perfectly brooding, much like a cool summer night.
The moral of the story is that in my journey to write songs, having idols and friends is more than a great thing, it’s almost necessary. Bill meeting his idols Boo and Gary are heaven-sent, and listening to “June” is absolute proof of it. How he writes for both himself and Molly is fantastic, and Molly herself is one of the most talented vocalists I’ve heard sing pop music, strong here and breathy there.
A friend of mine mentioned that the indie pop of Nashville deserves a name, and I agree with her. She recommended “heartland chamber pop” or “Nashville chamber pop”, to describe that pocket of singer-songwriters that includes Jill Sobule, Paula Kelley and more. Maybe I’ll revisit that in another blog post.
In Swan Dive I’ve found a love for love, a music that transcends the headphones with which I hear it and fills the world around me. It accompanies me through the cold winter into the thaw that spring brings. I’m more than happy to share Swan Dive’s performance of “June” below as well as encourage you to listen on Spotify or Apple Music. Bill’s also got this cool greeting card company with the cutest handmade bird collage art, and if you’re interested in that, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Below is the performance, which is sweet and fun from start to finish (Molly tears up on some of the sadder songs and I can’t blame her, because I was, too). I’m so thankful for this group, and so happy to share my thoughts about them with you. See you all soon!
Yesterday was so energetic and full of great music that when I checked the clock and saw that it was 2 a.m., I could only wish my day would never end. I began the day with the German indie rockers Readymade and visited the Hong Kong shoegazers Thud (who have an album on the way) when it struck midnight in Spain and the new Axolotes Mexicanos album dropped.
To be transparent, I had only discovered the group last week. But I did a lot of catching up, playing 2015’s Holi<3 and 2018’s Salu2 as well as the new album’s singles to prepare. And in Axolotes Mexicanos I discovered something extremely exciting: the finest blend of any two genres I could have imagined is tontipop and j-pop, something La Casa Azul excelled at in the presence of neo-shibuya-kei. On top of that, it’s the most fun pop punk I’ve heard in a long time.
The tracks leading up to the album were some of my favorites on the album itself. From the Uwu single are “Te Quiero (…)” and “Cuando_estoy_contigo.mp3”. They’re songs that talk to and answer each other, the former being about the dizzying and aggravating loneliness that accompanies a break-up and the latter being about the simultaneous anxiety and comfort of being together. “Te Quiero (…)” whips up into pop punk frenzy in its chorus, while the simple jangle pop stylings of “Cuando_estoy_contigo.mp3” are the twee-est I’ve heard the group so far.
The later single, “Cara de idiota”, has the perfect self-deprecatingly sweet lyrics as one might expect from twee, but here taking a fantastic cue from Kero Kero Bonito‘s recent work. I think it’s one of the strongest songs on the album. Perfectly catchy, a true pop song.
When approaching the album itself, it’s fun to see that there are both opening and ending tracks for the album, much like you would find in anime. “Opening” is charming with its marching drum beat and lyrical disdain for an imaginary partner. It transitions into “Cara de idiota” really well. On the other side, “De Aquí A Un Año” swells over with its fear of the future, leading into “Ending”, a track about being so desperate to see someone that you’d risk fatal injury. And even this track, much like the opening, has its share of comedy.
Their songs approach bittersweet and otherwise sad songs with a bright energy that to someone not proficient in Spanish, you’d never guess “Verano en espiral” was about idealized lives and dissatisfaction. This sort of energy comes over from the work of Elefant Records’ past and a number of other influences and infuses the lyrics with a truly youthful feeling. “Oshare kei”, named and styled after the subgenre of Visual kei, reminds me of an especially painful breakup I had, where life had to keep going but I felt so directionless.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, I really adore this album, and I’m excited for my record to come, which has this wonderful electric blue color. I encourage everyone reading not just to check out the album, but buy it either digitally or physically! Give it a year and physicals may be hard to find. 😉