The Garlands

The Garlands EP

(Cloudberry/Cosy; 2008)

By David Ritter | 7 July 2008

It comes in the mail, and it’s fucking adorable. Everything about the Garlands’ self-titled EP is small and cute: it comes on a 3” CD-R in a 3“x3” slip-sleeve; it’s printed with a dog’s adventures illustrated in a style somewhere between Norman Rockwell and Winnie the Pooh; it runs four songs and eight minutes; and it sports the sweetest female vocals in a country seam-bursting with sweet female vocals. Sounds a bit too precious, right? I’d agree if it weren’t for the six minutes of heads-up songcraft (two minutes are a Wham! cover) that make the Garlands the songwriters to beat in the overcrowded swedish indie-pop market.

Yes, this EP is a little thing, but god what a little thing it is. First off, I’m really getting into the format: in the era of the mp3 these limited-run (400 numbered copies) and meticulously packaged mail-order records actually make me want to own a physical copy of something. This desire aligns with necessity because—and this is a big fuck you to the internet—you can’t get this shit online. It’s possible that my google skills are sub-par, but it seems to me there is no “Garlands on-demand,” no Garlands at the speed of e-business. I’m sixteen again: anxiously checking the mailbox, thumbing the CD-R with anticipation. Music is a tactile experience again. The flipside of the internet making huge records worth nothing is the internet making tiny releases from Cloudberry Records and Cosy Recordings, records you actually have to touch and pay for, that much more valuable.

Christin Wolderth is a coloratura Isobel Cambell with less world-weariness and more purity in the upper range. The melodies she graces are flawless—all hook and gentle composure. “Why Did I Trust You”‘s rapid descending runs have the charm of a sweet ballad without losing any of their energetic catchiness. “David” is the EP’s centerpiece; at 2:20 it’s the longest track and the one with the most fully-developed structure. Where “Why Did I Trust You?” and “Your Words Are Still Stuck In My Head” meander gracefully—though never indulgently—from one melodic idea to the next, “David” moves through a more direct verse/pre-chorus/chorus structure. This makes “David” the most relatable and single-worthy track, though with no bar wasted on this EP it’s a toss-up as to whether it’s the best.

The 3” CD-R is to the regular 5” CD-R as the 45 is the LP, or at least that’s what the folks at Cloudberry and Cosy would have us believe. The few tracks on each release in Cloudberry’s catalogue are all divided into an arbitrary A and B side; on the Garlands EP, the A side tracks have bass and drums and the B side tracks don’t. This puts the focus squarely on Roger Gunnarson’s action-packed guitar playing. There’s a hint of garage distortion on “Freedom”, helping the straight-up chord strumming maintain its momentum. On the rest of the EP, Gunnarson serves up Birds-y arpeggios on speed, packing more ringing single-note picking into a couple bars than the DBs can deliver in an intro. He flies through the chord changes with a light-footed swiftness that gives the illusion of multiple layered instrumentation, easily filling any holes left by the sometimes-absent rhythm section.

Indie-pop is like cooking: you want the basic materials—protein, starch, melody, rhythm—recognizable and intact, but with a fresh twist. Wolderth’s plaintive, soaring soprano and Gunnarson’s arpeggio overdose are both effortlessly distinctive, allowing for plenty of rock-solid songwriting with no need to stray from the proven path. Their cover of “Freedom” is the icing on the cake—a dulcet take on the #1 Wham! hit that shows their affection for pop of the lightest variety. It’s ironic, sure, but not in that asshole way—strip away the neon-pink synth strings and you’ve got a solidly hooky jam. The Garlands know this and a great many things about making pop records. Some will say the real test comes with the full length, but eight perfect minutes is enough for me.