During the course of my time spent in Philadelphia, I had the chance to see Swedish band Dungen twice. The first time, not knowing too much about what I was in for, I was floored by the whirlwind psychedelia that emanated from the band's PA. The second time Dungen came to town, there was another high-profile show on the same night featuring nationally recognized bands. Despite the obvious interest in the bigger profile show, I went to see Dungen again and I think I made the right choice.
Headed by vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Gustav Ejstes, Dungen was formed in Stockholm in 1999 and has since gone on to record several outrageously creative albums full of tripped-out jams, wicked guitar solos, and frenzied instrumental parts. 2004 saw the band release their third full-length record Ta Det Lugnt, which was released in the United States that same year as a two-disc package with five bonus tracks. Despite all the songs being sung in Swedish, I would have a hard time believing that any listener open to new sounds and solid musicianship would not be instantly hooked by the record.
On the studio albums and on tour, Ejstes (who composes all the band's tunes) is joined by a variety of prolific supporting artists. Guitarist Reine Fiske, who has recorded and performed with a number of Swedish prog rock groups, has to be one of the most insanely talented guitarists I've ever seen live, delivering hair-raising solos and solid back-up work, while bassist Mattias Gustavsson's lines are incredibly mobile and active, creating heavy grooves over which the melodic elements of Dungen's songs burst and bloom. Drummer Fredrik Bjorling is similarly talented, alternating between rhythmic pounding and quick and explosive fills. Ejstes, for his part, is a dynamic vocalist (whose voice is often doubled, reverbed, and delayed), but also a master of a variety of instruments. During the course of the songs, Ejstes is as likely to pick up a fiddle or a flute as a guitar, creating really dense and rich compositions.
Ta Det Lugnt opens with a bang in its opener "Panda." Starting off with a prominent drum fill by Bjorling, the track kicks off with distorted guitar chords, finally giving way to a melodic vocal line by Ejstes and hopping bass groove. The chorus for the song is well-constructed and really triumphant (I imagine it's very funny hearing me try to imitate and sing along with the vocals since I have no clue what the words are). At the midway point, the song goes into a spacey interlude, only to change key signatures and return with a more dramatic repeat of the chorus. The entire opener is very rowdy and anarchic, but in spite of the raucous energy of the piece, all the varied elements fit into place perfectly.
This album incorporates all sorts of songs: slow jams, Beatles-like rock'n'roll, late '60s crazy psyche-rock, even reducing the instrumentation into electro-like grooves. All these songs feature stellar instrumentation and performance from the players, with Fiske frequently given free reign to go crazy on his guitar. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than on the third track "Festival" which starts off almost as a folk song with a gentle acoustic strum, then kicks into a drum and bass-heavy rock number. At several points during the song, Fiske cuts into sick-o psyche solos that soar, screech, wail and scream with guitar tones that most musicians would kill for.
Another remarkable moment occurs during the following track "Du Ar For Fin For Mig." The track begins with a melancholic violin cranking out a sad theme, before a Magical Mystery Tour era Beatles rock song starts. With its acoustic guitar chords, hand claps, and pleasant vocal harmonies, the track seems completely harmless, then towards the end goes into a full on trip out section. In the middle of a repeating vocal/hand clap echo, Fiske's guitar, the drums and bass light up with a blistering jam that is absolutely mind-melting.
Every song on this album possesses some kind of magic that hints at the creative and musical talents of Ejstes and his merry men. The title track concludes with a lengthy, free-jazz styled section with layered and delayed sax parts and jazzy drums and pianos, "Det Du Tanker Idag Ar Du I Morgon" is a dreamy piano solo with nice drum and guitar accompaniment, and "Om Du Vore En Vakthund" is a sinister groove created with buzzing bass, honky guitar, and airy keyboards. In the middle of these tracks, we get brief snippets of melody and a golden pop song in the track "Lipsill."
As an added bonus to the U.S. release of this album, a second five-track disc is included. Made up of one song with vocals and four instrumentals, its a welcome bonus to an already impressive package. "Tyst Minut" is a groovy tune with a funky bass line, smooth vocals, and a really cool chorus part replete with screeching guitar hooks and syncopated rhythms. The remaining tracks on the bonus disc create neat and chilled-out atmospheres: "Jamna Plagor" has a funky bongo beat and whispy guitar lines, while "Sjutton" sounds like the soundtrack for an early '70s spy thriller with a flute solo and sonorous bass line.
I really can't recommend this disc enough; it is easily one of the best releases of the decade. The fact that the vocals are in a language that I cannot even begin to understand doesn't diminish the power of the instrumental parts on the album; such craft went into the construction of the melodies and harmonies here and the way they work with one another that I can't help but be impressed. Ta Det Lugnt throws about every aspect of the psychedelic rock genre, from funk to folk, into a blender and unleashes a completely mind-boggling amalgamation of styles that is sure to have the listener enthralled. The variety of instrumentation and sounds alone is enough to make this record enjoyable, but the way the sounds create such dense sonic atmospheres makes Dungen's work here absolutely indispensable. Simply put, if you haven't heard this record, you really should.
An entry in the Texas+Sweden Write-Off as hosted by texas-swede; a really neat - and immensely fun - write-off idea.
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