Ta Det Lugnt
(Subliminal Sounds; 2004)
By Aaron Newell & Jan Chandra | 10 November 2004
To the guy at Metacritic: hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to make a request—-just put up “What they said” as the clip from Cokemachineglow’s Ta Det Lugnt review. There’s not much else I can add, really. Yes, it covers old, classic-rock/Golden Earring ground at times, but it does so beautifully (as in inspiring-jaw-agape-wonderment beautifully). So much so that I’ve more-or-less parsed out the Swedish syllables to my favourite parts and have sung them, despite being fully conscious of the idiocy of this, at full-voice while driving to work, with a wide grin on my face, regardless of what trucker or hockey mom passes me by smirking. In the case of “Du E För Fin För Mig” (“You Are Too Fine For Me”), I’ve sung the chorus repeatedly through the instrumental interlude at the end of the song and on into a gas bar (twice) and my office (three times), suffering stares of WTF each time. Given the gibberish, I think I got a DUI tag from one of the gas clerks, but whatever.
That particular song is itself one of the absolute best things I’ve heard this year (I realize this might not come off as praise, but, in the nicest, least-hair-product-using way, it sounds like indie rock’s answer to Mr. Big’s embarrassingly-memorable 1991 carol “To Be With You”). And if it weren’t for its overall gorgeous poppiness, “Fin För Mig” would be enchanting solely for the strings. Arrangement this sophisticated has no business coming out of anyone who’s not a three hundred year-old classical composer, and the violins’ interplay with the mid-paced marching acoustics and stunningly-harmonized vocals is a sublime experience on par with the pace pickup in Arcade Fire’s “Neighbourhood #1” or the cascading vocal harmonies of The Shins’ “Saint Simon." It is, simply, one of those songs you could fill a CD-R with. I will even admit to playing it over the phone to my girlfriend.
In fact (please bear with me) I’m half-inclined to suggest that those strings might be a sample. I wouldn’t know—-the Swedish liner notes don’t really help. And it’s such a surreal, overwhelming sound that I’m having trouble accepting that it could come from a contemporary of our own classically-stilted generation—-I’d have to rearrange my worldview, become optimistic, etc. Ultimately, however, optimism is indeed the gripping tractor beam of this record: it’s so strikingly positive, so confident-yet-humble in its presentation that, despite being linguistically incomprehensible, it’s more heartwarmingly resonant than 99% of what’s been released this year (sharing co-pilot duties with the above-mentioned Funeral).
A Swedish source has helped me with the “interpretation” of Ta Det Lugnt (he also kindly tracked a copy down for me, as it’s been out of stock at the regular onliners since the first reviews uploaded). My source’s name is Jan; he was born and raised in Goteborg, Sweden, where I have visited him twice and downed uncountable bottles of cognac with our mutual friends. Jan’s done some extensive world-traveling and has remarked that aside from the obvious omnipresent volley-ball-playing, bikini-clad blondes, the other accurate Swede stereotype is the initial perceived coldness or standoffishness upon first meeting. After the second meeting you’re usually in your underwear setting up a spike with one hand while holding a tumbler of Absolut in the other, but, generally, unless you smile first, you’ll never get smiled at.
From Jan’s lyric translations and insights, I get the feeling that Dungen’s Gustav Ejstes is taking it upon himself to address this sometime-stoicism. The album’s title means “Take It Easy,” and the record is packed with loose-feeling jam interludes that are relaxed, spacious, airy, and, without exception, brilliantly pleasing—-seemingly calculated to induce shy grins and mutually-approving eye-contact. Keys of all types, well-phased atmospherics, and kinetic percussion shine throughout. Furthermore, on the title cut Ejstes’ easy nasal finds (roughly): “How do you like to dress to a party? / Anything that will make people see you / What do you think about what people listen to today? / I like anything you can dance to.” The stilted, mechanical conversation is bounced off the freely hurtling chorus of “Take it easy!” which is, like so much of the record, incredibly harmonized, soaring over multiple bars. Taken as a coherent statement, the record simply smiles a very general “Loosen up y’all.” And with this year’s string of fantastic high-brow albums that are admittedly worthy of the struggle commanded to penetrate their crusty exteriors (Frog Eyes, anyone?), it’s a near-shameful surprise to find an album that waxes intimidating creativity yet says nothing more than “Welcome, please come in” from track one.
To contrast the overall bottle-in-hand feel, each of Ta Det Lugnt’s individual songs shows an acute, nearly neurotic perfectionist bent that’s borderline ironic given the relaxed relationship subject matter. Even the instrumental quasi-jams are feats of toiling arrangement with flutes, organs, and horns all happening at the best-possible moments. Nothing is rushed, nothing is hurried, nothing is close to accidental, and everywhere you listen there are moments of sublimity. I could get into each, but I’d be wasting your e-shopping time for tracking the disc down.
The best justice I can do this record is to say that in its just-enough variation, with each piece coyly easing majesty through a far-left-of-alt-rock take on arrangement (not to mention its somewhat-social agenda), Ta Det Lugnt could easily be twinned with The Bends (1995) in tightness of realization and execution. And while it’s impossible for its words to resonate equally with non-Scandinavians, can any of us claim to have understood exactly what Thom said the first time we heard “She lives with a broken man / A cracked polystyrene man / Who just crumbles and burns”? And will any of us lie and say we weren’t fully smitten with “Fake Plastic Trees” anyway? Every part of Ta Det Lugnt that you haven’t been missing, you’ve been hoping for. That’s why it’s foreign in geography only.
Correction: Well there’s meatball on our faces: turns out the image on the front cover is a “Kurbits," an example of a Swedish painting/art tradition developed during the 18th century by artists who traveled around from farm to farm and made decorative paintings on the walls of houses and cabins. I (Aaron) stuck in Jan’s quip about the cover art as a lighthearted add-on to a somewhat-sappy review, but didn’t realize the cover’s design so steeped in history/culture, nor did I realize its link to the artist (Ejstes grew up and perfected his craft in a rural setting in Sweden). These designs are historically connected to traditional Swedish folk music (the artists were usually musicians, as well); but are also somewhat “universal” as they’ve popped in different forms and in different cultures (I’ve been alerted to Dutch Kurbits-like designs on barns in rural Pennsylvania). Subliminal Sounds used this particular Kurbits to honour Swedish music and culture, and to indicate an element of universality, which is quite symbolic of the record itself. “Tack” to Stefan at Subliminal Sounds and reader Brandon Walter for helping to point this out.