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Archive for the ‘Swedish Music’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: VÄSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #720 (March 23, 2018).

Back in 2012 I had my first exposure to the nyckelharpa at Scanfest.  And now, nearly six years later Väsen (who did not play at Scanfest that year) have brought the nyckelharpa to Tiny Desk (and the blurb’s description is hilarious).

Väsen came to the Tiny Desk with just three instruments, but all together it was a 30-string sonic blast of 12-string guitar, viola and nyckelharpa (a fiddle with keys — think 15th century keytar).  Guitarist Roger Tallroth, violist Mikael Marin and nyckelharpist Olov Johansson have been a touring troupe for more than 25 years with 18 albums filled with adventure, amusement and virtuosity. They span the wide emotional range of Swedish folk music, equally haunting and celebratory. There are some similarities to Irish jigs, reels and waltzes that I’m more familiar with, but this music is more ear-bending, with more surprises than I’m used to in traditional string band folk music.

The band plays three instrumentals (all of their songs are instrumental) from their new album Brewed.

It’s fascinating how much these songs sound like Irish jigs and reels (fiddle and guitar after all).  There’s a looseness to them that makes them fun and enjoyable–perfect for drinking and dancing.  Especially a song called “IPA-Gubben” which means, “The old IPA man.”  On introducsing the song Olov points to Mikael and says “this is the old IPA man, he brought this tune as a birthday present when he turned 50.”

It’s possible that the nyckelharpa is quieter than the viol as it’s not always unique sounding amid the music.  But there are a few times when the nyckelharpa is playing a melody that stands out and you can really watch and hear Johansson shine–I had no idea the instrument could be played that quickly either.

Not to take anything away form the other two.  The viol plays some incredibly fast runs and melodies and the guitar while primarily used for chords, also adds in some fast runs.

“Väsenvalsen” was composed by Mikael.  It is the first ever Väsen waltz.  The song starts slowly and then dramatically takes off with some wonderfully fast (and very Irish-sounding lead lines on both viol and nyckelharpa.  I love in the middle when the nyckelharpa plays a harmony melody over the top of the viol so you can hear both instruments clearly.  It has a lovely ending with the nyckelharpa playing high notes to end the song.

“Sommarpolska” means “summer polka.”  It was written by Roger and has a  lovely melody that grows and subsides as the instruments ebb and flow.  It’s a joyful dance song and a wonderful concluding piece.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “Two Women”

In typical Amos Oz fashion, this was a rather short story.  It was translated by Sondra Silverston.

Osnat wakes before her alarm and passes the apartment occupied by Boaz and Ariella.  She thinks about what happened two months ago as if it had happened to strangers many years ago.

But it was only two months ago Boaz told Osnat he’d been having an affair with Ariella.  So he’s leaving her and moving in with Ariella (who lives in the same building).  Their affair began one day when Boaz came to fix a broken tap.  Boaz prepared for a huge confrontation, but as he started to ramp up his argument, she cut him off: “Go.  Just go.” (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: TAKEN BY TREES-Tiny Desk Concert #253   (November 29, 2012).

treesTaken By Trees plays only 2 songs, and it’s one of the shortest Tiny Desk Concerts I can think of (it’s not even 7 minutes long).  I clearly have gotten Taken By Trees confused with a number of bands with similarly constructed names (band with By and The in the title), for I had no idea what this band sounded like.

They are a four-piece with a lead singer, Victoria Bergsman, who sings in such an understated way that it’s almost melodic speaking.

“I Want You” has a reggae feel to it—the quick guitar chords and slow bouncy bass, but with Bergsman’s delivery the song couldn’t sound less reggae.

“Only You” is a bit more uptempo.  It was in this song that I noticed Bergsman’s accent (she and the band are from Sweden).  The set up of this song is similar to the previous one–a deep bass running through under high guitar chords.  It doesn’t sound reggae this time, but it sounds very delicate.

This was a gentle concert, which I enjoyed, although I don’t know that I’d ever want to see them live.

[READ: July 14, 2016] ”La Vita Nuova”

I enjoyed the fragmentary way that this story was constructed.  The story begins on the day that Amanda’s fiance left her.

Her parents were upset and angry.  Her friends said that he was no good.

She walked home, took out her wedding dress and brought it to work where she had all of the children at her school “decorate it.”  The school didn’t appreciate this gesture: “your personal life is not an appropriate art project for first grade.”

Then she lost her job at the school and later that year her ex-fiance married someone else (as her friend said he would). (more…)

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felciaiSOUNDTRACK: FREDRIK-Tiny Desk Concert #57 (May 3, 2010).

fredrikFredrik are a Swedish band.  They were a duo, then a sextet and then a duo again.  In this concert, they are in that duo state–Fredrik Hultin on vocals and guitar and Ola Lindfelt on electronics and percussion.

Their then new release was a dark album called Trilogi and was just the two of them.  They play two songs from that album and one form their debut.

“Ner” is quite dark, with the whispery vocals and the minor chord progression.  The simple thudding drum beat also keeps the song somewhat ominous.  Speaking of the drummer, he is using a microphone (into which he later whistles) as a drumstick (he hits the cymbal with it later).  But his main “drumstick” is a maraca.

“Locked in the Basement” is a bit louder but with the same percussion set up.  It maintains that ominousness (just see the title of song).  Although in the middle it quiets down to just a thumping drums and gentle guitar noises with Ola’s backing oohs.

“Black Fur” is a bit more upbeat (in the blurb Robin says it is a soaring song on their debut).  It is stripped down here and it quite catchy–almost upbeat and positive.  It’s quite different from the other two songs. You can hear their recorded version of it (when they were a sextet) here.

I enjoyed these songs, and wonder if Fredrik has continued as a duo in the last five years.

[READ: September 7, 2015] You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) 

Like most geeky folks, I love Felicia Day.  The Guild was an awesome show and her creativity behind it is really masterful.  And she was in Dr Horrible, which is how I found out that she was one of the slayers in the final seasons of Buffy.

So Felicia has the geek cred.  But I didn’t know anything about her.  And I wasn’t sure that I cared all that much.  I mean, Felicia is the bomb but do I need to know how she got to be that way?  Nevertheless, I was curious to see what she would put into this book.

If you’re looking for salacious stories about working on Buffy, you won’t get them.  Aside from an intro by Joss Whedon, there’s very little information about her time on Buffy.  Rather, she talks about her childhood (which is fascinating) and her Guild making days and her post-Guild success.  And there’s a rather dark turn near the end.

But really, this book is all about empowerment (as the title hints at)–all about embracing your inner loves and following what you want to do.  In the book, which is chock full of pictures, she calls these coffee mug moment sand Photoshops her aphorisms onto mugs for our edification.  There’s also a lot of very funny pictures of herself from throughout her life. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_11_18_13Tomine.inddSOUNDTRACK: TALLEST MAN ON EARTH-Tiny Desk Concert #26 (September 14, 2009).

tmoeI was not aware of The Tallest Man on Earth before hearing him on All Songs Considered.  And then WXPN started playing one of his songs, so he became somewhat familiar to me.  I have since listened to some of his concerts and this Tiny Desk Concert and I really like him a lot.

So the Tallest Man on Earth is Kristian Matsson, a Swedish folksinger with a great guitar picking style and a deep powerful gritty voice.  He plays three songs in this set.  “I Won’t Be Found” has wonderful fast guitar picking that contrasts wonderfully with his simple singing melody.  It’s a great song.  As is “The Gardener” which sounds very different.  This one is largely strummed–a bouncy, jaunty strum. It seems to contain the origin of his unusual stage name (or perhaps it just a fun allusion to it).

“Pistol Dreams” has more great finger picking (and reminds me a little of Richard Thompson).  It’s a sweet song, and his gruff voice once again provides excellent contrast.

I hope to hear more from The Tallest Man on Earth.  Check it out.

READ: “Find the Bad Guy”

This story was surprisingly dark (I don’t think of Eugenides as quite so dark).  It starts out with the narrator talking about the house that he and his wife have owned for 12 years.  And yet they still haven’t gotten the smell of the previous owners completely out of it.  (There’s a nice payoff to this idea later in the story).

But that’s not the point.  The point is that he has recently been kicked out of his house—given a restraining order, in fact.  But since he knows the plans of his house he knows that he can stand right where he is—just inside the front fence—and know that he’s not too close.

The story has trappings of being current—he plays Words with Friends with his daughter (her name is mrsbieber), which I found to be just slightly out of touch.  But that’s irrelevant.

The narrator is Charlie Daniels (not that one—he goes by Charlie D to avoid confusion, especially since he works in music).  He met his wife at a radio station.  She worked at a country station, although she didn’t like country music.  Johanna was from Germany (her name was Lübeck, but everyone pronounced it Lubbock).  But the thing about her was that she was very tall (not that tall in Germany, she said).  And Charlie D was suave, so he asked her clever things like how the weather was up there and if she ever played basketball.  She didn’t fall for this, of course, but then one day she asked if they could get married so she could get a green card.  He said sure. (more…)

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misswyomingSOUNDTRACK: THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH-Live at KEXP (September 8, 2012).

tmoeThe Tallest Man on Earth is Kristian Matsson a Swedish singer songwriter.  His albums have a very full sound, but when he plays live, it’s just him and his guitar.  And man, is he a compelling performer.  His guitar playing (primarily classical-sounding but often heavy and mostly rocking) is gorgeous–fast and pretty.  And his voice is gravelly and powerful.  I’ve enjoyed the studio songs I’ve heard, but he is transcendent live.

This set opens with a buzzy guitar that sounds like the show is not recorded well.  But that quickly goes away and the songs shine.  Matsson is a charming and self depreciating performer and when he has a malfunction as in “Love is All”and at the end he says “that was kind of embarrassing.”  But he not bothered by it and plays on with a great, short set.

The set includes some (then) new songs and a few older ones as well: “A Field of Birds,” “King of Spain”, “Tangle in This Trampled Wheat,” “Thrown Right at Me,” “The Gardener” and “Like a Wheel.”  It’s a great introduction to the guy and his amazing voice. which you can enjoy at KEXP.

 [READ: August 20, 2013] Miss Wyoming

I first read the book during my trip to Vancouver on the eve of Y2K (the best flight I’ve ever had—mostly empty and we were given champagne).  I started reading it on the plane and then in the second chapter the heroine is in a plane crash.  So I stopped reading.  I’m sure I finished it later, although I didn’t remember much of anything about it.

I read it again now and I was a little disappointed when I started reading it.  The first few chapters are so full of similes it is insane.  The word “like” is tossed around at an incredulous pace.  Like:

  • John’s teeth were big and white, like pearls of baby corn
  • …his skin like brown leather.
  • His eyes looked like those of somebody who’s lost big.
  • They crossed San Vicente Blvd, passing buildings and roads that once held stories for each of them, but which now seemed transient and disconnected from their lives, like window displays.
  • Susan was wrapped in a pale light fabric, cool and comfortable, like a pageant winner’s sash.
  • John was sweating like a lemonade pitcher,
  • …his jeans, gingham shirt and black hair soaking up heat like desert stones.
  • John felt as close to Susan as paint is to a wall.
  • Staring at the pavement, like Prince William behind his mother’s coffin.
  • This man with sad pale yes, like snowy TV sets

That’s all in the first chapter!

Now, I have come to see that the story is cyclical and it’s about people looking for their real selves.  So it’s possible that the simile heavy beginning is meant to reflect the fact that the protagonists are looking for themselves—they have no substance so they can only be compared to other things.  But man, it is hard going with that many comparisons.

The other major problem I had with the story was the really aggressive use of coincidence.  Susan and John both end up eating out of fast food dumpsters; just as Susan’s mother wants to sell their house, a pile of garbage from an airplane falls on it.  Right after we learn of a guy hoarding gasoline, the house explodes.  Again there are arguments for why these things might happen in this story (numerology is an important aspect of the book), but it seems too…easy.

But once the story starts moving the actual plot is really interesting and compelling. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_06_10_13Schossow.inddSOUNDTRACK: ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF-“Funeral for My Future Child” (2013).

anna-von-hausswolffThis was selected as one of NPR’s favorite songs of the year (so far).

It’s probably hard to like a song with a title like that, but there’s something strangely compelling about the whole proceeding–the great intricate percussion and drums that start the song, the ponderous pipe organ that lays down the melody, and then Anna’s voice which has a country-ish feel (kind of like Neko Case), but also has a kind of Dead Can Dance vocal style.   Or perhaps that’s just because she is Swedish.

By the time the chorus comes around, the ache of the song is apparent.  And the end has more of that amazing percussion.  I rather like the beginning and the end of the song more than the middle, which I guess doesn’t say a lot for it, but it is intriguing.

Evidently this album is primarily full of pipe organ, an interesting choice for a rock album.  I’d be curious to hear more.

[READ: June 17, 2013] “Twisted”

As if anticipating that I would not be able to write posts this week, the New Yorker has supplied me with a series of very short “True Crimes” pieces.  In fact, the whole issue is a fiction issue, which means a half a dozen or so stories as well.   But it’s these “True Crimes” that will keep me posting this week.

The first is from George Pelecanos, and it’s a story of his own crimes.  He explains that when he was younger, he did all manner of illegal things but had never been caught (aside from a few minor infractions).  He broke into houses and stole records from someone he didn’t like.  He rode in a stolen car, stole wallets from strangers at stores (at this point I really don’t like this guy).  But he doesn’t try to make excuses for himself.  He was a boy and he was having fun.

But the crimes continues long past adolescence.  In 1985 he was 28 and got involved in a high-speed chase.  He was drinking and smoking pot at a wedding.  He and his fiancée stopped at a convenience store where he backed  into someone’s car.  A gang of people came out and the threat of violence was imminent.  But he hopped in his car, drove on the sidewalk and sped off with the police in pursuit. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_02_25_13Ulriksen.inddSOUNDTRACK: THE KNIFE-Shaking the Habitual (2013).

theknife2Since I reviewed the 19 minute song from this album yesterday I thought I’d check out the rest of the disc (still a handful).  I kept bearing in mind that The Knife are pretty much a dance duo.  So this departure is not only radical, it pretty much undercuts the kind of music they make.  The progress is probably exciting but I imagine fans would turn away in droves.  I wonder how this record will play out for them in the long run.  Incidentally, I wasn’t a fan before, so I don’t really have a horse in this race.

“A Tooth for an Eye” opens the record with an interesting percussion sound an a pulsing keyboard melody.  The keening vocals come in sounding weird and distant and more than a little eerie.  “Full of Fire” is a 9-minute song with a weird skittery “melody” that seems to float above the battered mechanical “drum.”  The whispered vocals are strained and also a little creepy.  The middle section has the skittery music jump around while the vocals get even more processed—making it simultaneously more friendly and less so.  It’s probably the coolest weird song on the disc, with parts that are catchy and interesting and parts that are just peculiar.  This is the single, by the way.

“A Cherry on Top” is 8 minutes of reasonable quietude, with the second half introducing an autoharp.  It’s certainly the most mellow thing on the disc.  Although it’s not exactly relaxing.  “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” seems like it should be the single—it is propulsive and while the vocals are certainly odd, they are the most conventional thing on the album.  “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” has big electronic pulsing drums and whispered vocals.  It’s a fairly normal sounding song (at least for this album), and could easily play in a goth club.

“Crake” is 55 second of squalling feedback.  The album also has “Oryx” which is 37 second of wailing noise.  In between is the 10 minute “Raging Lung” which is not available on Spotify.  “Networking” a skittering beat with a second beat that may just be a sample of a person making noise in his or her throat.  The “voices” get stranger throughout the song, keening, twisting and spinning, reminiscent of The Art of Noise.

“Stay Out Here” is a ten minute song.  It starts with a fairly standard electronic drumbeat.  Whispered vocals come in giving it a kind of Nine Inch Nails vibe, until the female vocals come in (and are quickly manipulated to sound kind of male).  The switch from male and female vocals is interesting, giving it an almost modern sounding Dead Can Dance feel.

“Fracking Fluid Injection” has sounds like scraping, rusted gates as the beat with sampled voices overlaid.  Again, this is nearly 10 minute long.  The problem with things like this, aside from their relative tediousness, is that they aren’t all that original.  Now originality is nothing to hold a band to, we all know, but if you’re going to do non-form sounds that are echoed with little else to it, it would be more interesting if there was something original to pin to it.  “Ready to Lose” ends the album with a steady beat and a pretty standard vocal line (even if the voices are processed).

So this album us a pretty radical departure for the band and it’s a pretty radical departure for dance music as a whole.  I’m curious to see if this will lead to a anything or if this will be their one weird album.

[READ: April 15, 2013] “The Furies”

The story opens with a rather creepy man stating at his wedding reception that he is in an exclusive club: “There are not too many men who can say that they’re older than their father-in-law.” Ew.  He was fifty-eight, his new wife 31.  His father-in-law is 56.  The father-in-law seems okay with this, but really how could he be?

Ray is a dentist and his new wife, Shelly, had been his hygienist for years.  When Shelly told him she was thinking of getting a new job, he professed his love for her, and informed his wife, Angie that he was in love with Shelly.  Angie took it badly, but he was surprised when she seemed mad that he didn’t do this years earlier while she still had a chance to meet someone (rather than being distraught that he was leaving her).  As a parting shot she says that she wishes him ill.  And she hope he suffers with the woman who took him from her.

But they had no children, just assets, and things were divided evenly and cleanly.  And he thanked his lucky starts to be with a new woman, someone who was fun and so different from his first wife. (more…)

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