Astrid Swan – From The Bed And Beyond

Many pop albums are just a collection of songs which happen to be released at the same. But there are some others with songs that we, as listeners, can only understand in relation to the context in which they were created, written and recorded. This is the case of Blood of the Tracks, which will always be regarded as the ultimate divorce album as Dylan recorded it around the time his marriage fell apart.

From The Bed And Beyond, Astrid Swan’s newest album, certainly belongs to this second category. Even if you’ve heard little or nothing about it, the theme of the album presents itself crystal clear the first time you listen to it. These are songs about becoming a mother and falling ill with cancer. Songs about your body failing, about the fear of leaving your loved ones behind. Songs recorded in the aftermath of cancer, while the body is in the process of healing.

If you’ve heard a bit more about the album, you’re probably award this is a five-star album. Critics are loving this album and reviews are raving about it. They are probably right. It’s such an earnest, brutally honest and emotional effort. As expected, many of the songs come from a dark, sad place, presenting blunt, merciless words. Some of the lyrics feel like inserting needles under your fingernails. Go for a walk and listen to them, reflect on them. “I’m afraid I’ll never sing”, the singer sings in ’Song of Fear’. “I’m afraid of broken bones/ I’m afraid of hospitals/ I’m afraid I never kissed enough/ I’m afraid of disappearing/ from the hearts of the ones I love/ I’m afraid of dying young”. Bloody scary song.

However, towards the end of the song Astrid repeats relieve words: “I’m alive”. That’s the hope and light which remains at the core of the album. That’s the essential takeaway of this album. Be alive. Enjoy every sandwich.

From The Bed And Beyond joins a list of albums that empathize in times of cancer and loss, and it does it as one of the most gratifying and compelling examples. It’s a difficult album, uncomfortable at times. But it’s not depressing. Let yourself be carried by its elegant and sweet jazz touches, its intimate blues and the colorful synths and electronic soundscapes. While the music  does not make a break from the negative phase of life in which it was created, From the Bed And Beyond dignifies the pop album as an art form.

Find out more about From The Bed And Beyond in this insightful Q&A with fellow Rosvot blogger June.

Catch one of the upcoming Astrid Swan gigs next week at Tavastia in Helsinki (29 March w/ Jennie Abrahamson), in Tallinn at Tallinn Music Week (1 April) and later in the summer at Flow Festival.

 

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Waterloos – Writings on the Wall

Sans the makeup (yet), but with guitar riffs galore, Tampere trio Waterloos are set to continue the tradition of the most charismatic Finnish hard rock. One that expands from HIM to The 69 Eyes and most recently, Reckless Love and Santa Cruz. Inspired by 80s glam metal, but underlining the pop melodies and hooks, rather than the sleazy elements.

After just a few months composing songs and rehearsing, Waterloos present their first release, a four-song entitled EP Writings on the Wall. The EP stars off with the title track, which ticks all the boxes of the genre. That’s right, it’s song best savored while gulping shots of Jack Daniel’s. Personally, I find the other three songs more compelling, specially ’Jaded’ or the semi-ballad ’Where Are You Know’. Anyway, it’s a pretty solid effort which will be followed by a full-length album later in the year.

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To be continued… Ebbot Lundberg

The album cover depicts the perfect middle age couple: pretty, beautiful eyes, perfect white smile. Man and woman look happy, they welcome us to their elegant house. On a closer look, the image is disturbing. Too much perfection. Both drink what it seems to be a super healthy green beverage -it actually is papaya coconut milk mixed with a heavy dose of absinthe. Too much happiness. These two individuals do not look real. Could they be replicants? Or maybe aliens that have just arrived to Earth?

That’s the artwork of The Soundtrack of our Lives’ album Communion (2009). At the time, singer Ebbot Lundberg explained they chose that particular image “because it is one of the images we’re being fed every day. The perfect life that does not exist. Some sort of modern mass psychosis that people subconsciously get sucked into. The cancer of corporocracy which now has spread all over our planet. And everybody is happy”. A gloomy look to society that did not even intend to mess with people’s heads because “Most people heads are in a mess nowadays. And maybe these images are to blame.”

Fast forward nearly eight years and times seem more somber. Ebbot Lundberg is set to play in Helsinki again after a long absence, but his band does no longer exist. The Soundtrack of our Lives split in 2012 after a series of farewell shows in Stockholm. For the last four years, Lundberg has been working on a solo career. After a myriad of projects, he’s put out an inspired album and has a solid backing band to support it and tour behind it.

The day Ebbot Lundberg and The Indigo Children took the stage in Helsinki is the day Donald Trump sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. The singer briefly acknowledges this fact on stage and I can’t help thinking of the couple on the cover of Communion. In this last seven years we can’t really say the world has gotten any better. In the era of Brexit, Trump, terrorism, financial crisis mass hysteria, we keep drinking smoothies to make us feel better in a ever-connected narcissistic society. Today, those aliens might not even want to come to Earth.

But the show must go on, and it’s a new beginning for Ebbot Lundberg. Or rather, it’s the start of the third act. First, in the late eighties, he was the wild short-haired punk fronting Union Carbide Productions in the late eighties, growling maximum dogbreath over Stooges-inspired guitars. Union Carbide would grow into more cosmic, spaced-out pop songs. From the ashes of this band, Lundberg went to form The Soundtrack of Our Lives and his musical journey embraced sixties sounds, psychedelia and a love for melody and pop forms without forgetting guitar riffs and power chords. Now, for his solo venture, he’s joined forces with The Indigo Children, a bunch of kids more than half his age -none of them were born when the first Union Carbide album hit the stores. In many ways, The Indigo Children are the perfect backing band. They grew up listening to The Soundtrack of our Lives so the songs are in their DNA. Lundberg feels mentally connected to them and plays well the role of a mentor. In response they band has reenergized his music. Without the heavy weight old bands carry, The Indigo Children are malleable enough to play any song, and Lundberg is not shy to go deep into his catalogue, including in his set old Union Carbide songs for the first in years. And, Lundberg feeds on the energy the band brings. Past the age of 50, the shaman-like figure of Lundberg is revitalized.

Greatest Hits Providers

Precisely is that energy what he seemed to be missing at the end of TSOOL. “We got lame towards the one. We had a big festival to play in Toronto but nobody felt like going there then, so it was better to split up”. This is what Lundberg tells me before soundcheck at Korjaamo, speaking quickly, without hiding his heavy Scandinavian accent.

Apathy, boredom, lack of inspiration… Whatever the reason, time was up for The Soundtrack of our Lives. Lundberg affirms he always envisioned the band would peaked in 2012 and so it happened. The muse was gone.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives (TSOOL) were meant to last forever. Or so it seemed. At the end of the nineties, the band from Göteborg, Sweden, rewrote classic rock for the 21st century. Firmly based on the heroes of the sixties: the psychedelia of early Pink Floyd and Love, the proto-punk of The Who and a Beatlesque approach to melody and grandiose arrangements. Lundberg fronted the six-piece group with his shaman-like immense figure. As greatest hits providers, the band recorded extensively. Long, epic albums followed by a torrent of B-sides and EPs.

By their third album, Behind the Music (2001), TSOOL were heading for the big time. The Swedes were going to be big stars. Songs like “Sister Surround” or the emotive “Nevermore” had it all to be worldwide hits. The hype machine worked, specially in the UK. Noel Gallagher proclaimed Behind the Music the best album to come out in the last six years, and Steven Van Zandt raved about the band. They appeared on the Conan O’Brien, on Letterman and other TV shows. It was even rumored that Johnny Cash recorded a version of Nevermore for his American Recording series.

Against all odds, TSOOL never got any more popular. They remained that little rock band from Sweden, playing festivals and club gigs across Europe. But the big breakthrough in the US never happened. Despite the TV appearances, the songs on TV shows like Californication, TSOOL remained unknown in the US. Sure it didn’t help Pitchfork beard a grudge against the Swedish band. Harsh reviews qualified Behind the Music as derivative and bland, dismissing the band for being in large part a classic rock band with no hooks and no energy. Nasty words without much arguments to back them up. Pitchfork being cooler than cool.

As TSOOL started to fade away, loud guitars dwindled and melancholia took over. Filled with mid-tempos and ballads, mostly acoustic and folky, the band’s last album, Throw It to the Universe (2012), was a fitting goodbye. Sad, but positive as the last song sung “Shine on/ There’s another day after tomorrow/ There’s another day after the end.”

“I felt I was the only one who wanted to continue”. There’s no bitterness in his voice when Lundberg pronounces these words. Just acceptance. Fuck it! If they don’t want to do it, I’ll do it, he seems to say.

Shine On (There’s another day after tomorrow)

And so there was another day after the end. After nearly three decades fronting bands, Ebbot Lundberg launched a solo career. Since those farewell shows, many projects have kept him busy, even though there was not a clear direction or touring: a self-release one-song psychedelic album, a self-made album of demos and a few singles. He even participated in the Swedish version of the reality TV/music show The Best Singers, in which different artists cover each other’s songs. “Oh that made me suddenly famous”, he chuckles. That show led to one EP, The Freereelin’ Ebbot Lundberg. This is one of the few recordings in which he sings in his mother tongue, in Swedish. “I always preferred English”, he admits. “I was never interested. I listened to English music when I grew up. I remember listening to ABBA for the first time and they were still singing in Swedish before they got famous. I was six years old and I thought, meh, what’s this shit, turn it off. English appealed to me much more”. Despite that, he remembers singing in Swedish early in his career: #I was in a punk band in the early 80s before Union Carbide and I sang in Swedish. It was a fun dadaist thing. We just had a title and wrote down whatever came to mind”.

For the Ages to Come

After some time in the making, waiting for right time to release it, For the Ages To Come was published in 2016. And with The Indigo Children, for the first time in four years, the singer has a solid band to tour behind this album. These new songs don’t represent a departure from the TSOOL sound. “Heck, it could have been the next TSOOL album”, Lundberg says. “It’s a continuum of TSOOL. You can hear it.”

True. Right from the opening track For the Ages to Come is a continuation of Shine On. Written and produced by Lundberg, it is another trip through much-loved 60s sounds, with a few experiments along the way. Melodic psych-rock with a strong folk-vibe. The album sounds inspired and focused, with anthemic rockers like Backdrop People and gentle folk ballads such as In Subliminal Clouds. A couple of songs (“Drowning in a Wishing Well”, “Little Big Thing”) connect directly with the melancholic vibe on Shine On. Unlike the last TSOOL album, this time there are no scornful feelings, a bitter farewell, but a rise of energy, of positive energy.

Maybe it’s age, or maybe it’s just a phase, but mellow sounds are predominant. “I’m really connected to the West Coast of Sweden. There’s a mystic aura around it”, Lundberg tells, thinking of home. “It’s like paradise to me and the biggest inspiration in my sound. There’s this magic forest next to where I live, I wonder around, thinking and writing music. I can’t live without it.”

To Be Continued

As a closure to For the Ages to Come, Lundberg shows himself as the last man standing. “Here I am again/ Here I am the only one again/ And it’s the story that will never end/ With all the unfinished dream I had before I was gone…/ With the sound that made me believe in anything”, he sings in the closing track “To Be Continued. Those lines are the right follow-up to TSOOL’s “Shine On (There’s Another Day after Tomorrow)”.

For the Ages To Come contains two cover songs. One is a hard rocking version of the fuzz-fueled song Don’t Blow Your Mind, a song by The Spiders, Vincent Furnier’s garage band before he transformed into Alice Cooper. “That’s a song I always wanted to do, even with Union Carbide. But nobody else wanted to play it. Now I decided to record it with The Indigo Children and it’s a great live song too.”

The other cover on the album is even more surprising. After falling in love with the song, Lundberg translated Los Pekenikes’“Cerca de las Estrellas”. This is a rare Spanish pop nugget from the sixties and Lunberg is fittingly translated as “Calling From Heaven”.

“A friend of mine sent me this song and I thought wow, this is really good! If I could translate it and adapt it, I could record it. “Calling from Heaven” felt like a good title and had the same theme as the original. After I recorded the song I found out the guy who wrote had passed away. I looked up on what date he died and it was the same day I got the song. And it’s titled “Calling From Heaven”. Shivers! Mind blowing!”, Lundberg explains.

None of these two songs were played in Helsinki. The show was not very well attended. It’s a cold January night and there were plenty of other shows around the city. Despite notable guests like 22-Pistepirkko’s P-K Keränen, half the venue is empty. Years ago, TSOOL would have sold out Tavastia. Today Ebbot and his band can barely fill a smaller venue. Psychedelic rock is not selling tickets this year any more.

Full house or a small audience, it does not really matter. Ebbot Lundberg continues his journey. One that started thirty years ago with the punk rock of Union Carbide and continued with The Soundtrack of Our Lives. Now, with The Indigo Children, it’s time to revisit the pass while moving forward.

What’s next? “I don’t know what the next thing is going to be. Probably crazier.”, Lundberg guesses.

Your guess is as good as his.

To be continued…

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Yvonne and the No Regrets – Mark (Part 1)

The idea is neat: love letters in a punk rock envelope.

Using lyrics allegedly based on handwritten love letters Yvonne has received from all around the world, Yvonne and the No Regrets have recorded a collection of thirteen songs that form the band’s debut. The album is appropriately titled Communication through postal services and the songs, I believe, are titled after the admirers who wrote the letters: Demian, Boaz, Adam, David, Mark… 13 raw and high energy, punk rock blasts. Arid and abrasive, these songs will not be the first choice for a prom dance, but sure are a kick in the guts of any heartbroken lover.

Communication through postal services is available in cassette and digitally.

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Delay Trees: Ten Years Gone

A few days ago, a Facebook post reminded me this year marks the tenth anniversary of one of my favorite Finnish bands. Delay Trees turns ten! Hooray! Congratulations!

In this ten years, the band has played dozen of gigs across and published three full-length album and a couple of EPs, perfecting their melancholic dream pop with each release. A pretty solid career I must say. But the story does not stop there. A new album, Let Go, is ready and will hit stores very soon. So soon that you can already listen to a couple of advanced songs.

It’s been a long time since a copy of the band’s debut, the magnificent Soft Construction EP, hit my mailbox along a handwritten note presenting the band. A few days later, I had the opportunity to meet the band and interviewed singer Rami Vierula, right before one of Delay Trees first shows, back in 2009.

To celebrate this anniversary I dug into the blog’s archive to bring you that 2009 interview with Delay Trees. I can’t tell if we were much older then and we’re younger than that now, but sure there’s much more beard these days. Read the interview below.

 

Delay Trees 2007

Delay Trees 2007

Delay Trees 2016

Delay Trees 2016

 

They come in quietly, with modesty and not making noise, but indie pop quartet Delay Trees have just self-released what it could become one of the best debut records to hit the scene this year. The Helsinki/Hämeenlinna band escapes from loud noises to deliver gentle cinematic atmospheres with a subtle touch of sixties psychedelia.

A couple of weeks ago, Delay Trees presented the Soft Construction EP live in Tampere. Just a bit before the late night show, the guys spent some time to introduce the band. Guitarist and singer Rami Vierula acted as the spokesman and took the lead in the conversation.

How did you meet and start playing?

Sami, Lauri and me have a history together. We had another band before. It was sort of brit pop. That band ended, but we three kept on playing together. We tried different drummers and finally Onni came and stayed. He was the perfect fit. In any case, we all knew each other before. We have been friends for a long time.

When you started this project, did you have a clear idea of what type of music you would play?

At the beginning, we had several acoustic folk songs, similar to Love and that type of sixties folk music. Forever Changes was a very big thing for me at the time. When we started to rehearse as a group, we moved to something more electric. But still we liked to keep it mellow. Nowadays it seems that every pop band plays so loud. We don’t need that. We don’t use so much distortion, for instance. We just do what we like. That’s why there’s not much distortion or heavy stuff. We just don’t like it.

What are your main influences?

There are many because everyone in the band seems to have his own favourite. Onni might be more into the indie scene, for example. However, Pink Floyd might be a band we all like. Myself, for a long time I only listened to sixties stuff. I also like David Bowie a lot, but the other guys not so much.

How was the recording of Soft Construction EP?

It was a long process. We rehearse a lot and did some demos, first. Then we found some people to help us with the recording. It was through friends and family. We heard from friends of a friend and names were dropped, so we got in contact with Jarno Alho, Teemu Vilmunen, from Ultramariini, and Julius Mauranen. They helped us recording and mixing. Little by little, everything fell into pieces, but it would be nice if we could find a record label or someone with cash to do some promotion.

Was there a big difference between playing live and recording in the studio?

We were about to have someone to act as a producer, but in the end we thought that the songs were ready. The complete idea of the songs was in our heads. It was our intention to keep the recording fairly simple, so it would not sound like a total different world from our live act. If we ever have the opportunity of recording again, we will probably try to follow the same pattern, just playing live in the studio. It gives a better vibe.

Have you been in contact with record companies?

We are sending the CD to any record company we can find, although we don’t have that much believe in record companies. There are only a few in Finland that could do well with a band like us. It would not be very useful for us to sign with a big company like Sony, for example. A company like that would like to produce our songs more and make them smooth and easy listening. Maybe winning the lottery is a better way for us to succeed.

Why did you choose old photos to be the artwork?

Sami is a graphic designer and he mentioned the idea of using that type of photos. My family has some good old vintage photos so we ended up using those. It does not have any hidden messages or anything. They just look nice. Since our music is soft and cinematic, it fits well with these images. They look like movie stills. What is sure is that we won’t be a picture band.

Finally, what about the band’s name, Delay Trees?

We went through the worse band names ever, but here’s not a big story behind the name. When I thought about it I just went to Allmusic.com and check if there would any other band with that name. We did not want to have a name that have been used many times. It needed it to be unique. Delay Trees does not make much sense, but to me it brings a David Lynch type of image. Blurry moving trees or something. It felt good. But actually, if you google it, it is a programming term. We didn’t know about that.

 

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The 10 best Finnish albums of 2016

Several outstanding new releases are around the corner: Astrid Swan’s return, the hard rocking new Them Bird Things album, Mikko Joensuu’s last chapter of the Amen trilogy, another Janne Westerlund dark blues record… However, as usual, I want to dedicate the first post of the year to the best Finnish albums of 2016. Here it goes.

Check out the best Finnish albums of previous years: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012.

 

10. The Hearing – Adrian

Ringa Manner, aka The Hearing, goes a long way with resonating beats and mesmerizing layers of vocals. I was taken aback by the intimate and dreamy, yet catchy, electro-pop presented with Adrian.

9. Is This Really Me – The Iron Door

There are days when I want to spend the evening with a well-crafted, heartfelt album. And, that’s exactly what Is This Really Me’s The Iron Door is: a superb collection pop songs with some comforting folk textures.

8. Matti Jasu and the Loose Train – Gone to the Dogs

Matti Jasu’s albums go often unnoticed, but it’s hard not to have a soft spot for his easy-going, guitar-driven, charming pop songs. Plus, the video for What Goes On is simply funstactic.

7. Oddarrang – Agartha

Agartha is the soundtrack of a film yet to be made. Brilliantly blending post-rock, jazz, classical music and some prog, Oddarrang have created a hypnotic cinematic experience.

6. Cats of Transnistria – Divine

These cats’ music might not be love at first listen. Give it time and the enigmatic soundscapes will haunt you forever.

5. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä

No matter any X-Factor, Finland is a metal country. On their fourth album, Oranssi Pazuzu expanded its sound beyond the boundaries of black metal -but still the music is obscure and heavy as the darkest night. If you care about it, Värähtelijä got the attention of Pitchfork critics who rated the album with a well-deserved 7.9.

4. Seremonia – Pahuuden äänet

Seromonia’s music comes from a dark place, a very dark place, spooky and frightening. Rising from those spooky corners of the mind, Pahuuden äänet is raw, thrilling heavy psych-rock. A kick in the devil’s guts. It was released in 2016, but it could have been out in 1972 as well.

3. Talmud Beach – Chief

The minimalist blues and the laid-back boogie of this bearded trio was a great companion during the hot summer days. With some of the funniest lyrics this year, Talmud Beach could do no wrong after they sold their hair to the devil and the devil gave them the blues.

2. Black Twig – Blaze on a Plain

Throughout the year I returned to Black Twig’s Blaze on a Plain many, many times. Not only that. I did not get tired of recommending this album to anyone who would listen. Glorious fuzzy guitar pop and excellent songwriting. No filler. Maybe one day, it will be seen as classic Finnish indie album.

1. Mikko Joensuu – Amen 1 & Amen 2

According to most best of the year lists, critics prefer Amen 1, but I’ve listened to the second in the trilogy much more -mostly due to its grandiose rock sound and the epic There Used to Be a Darkness. The truth is that I find very difficult to separate both albums. Amen 1 deals with lost faith, and does it with intimacy and immediacy, using monstly acoustic instruments and folk songs. Amen 2 presents a fuller, brighter sound to reach acceptance, with fuzzy rock guitars, electronic elements, noise and lengthy songs. Both albums are they same album, really. They are part of a continuum which will conclude in a few months with the release of Amen 3. Only then we’ll see the full picture of this magnificent, relevant and beautiful masterpiece.

 

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