Monday, October 8, 2012

MAMBA – Mamba (Sonet, 1979)

International relevance: ***

Housed in a stunning sleeve, the cover art is the best thing about this album. Musically it's typical jazz funk fusion that was popular in Sweden in the latter half of the 70's. Extremely competent with a strong Egba vibe, but also utterly dull. Sweden was obviously very proud of its many fusionists back then, but no matter how much we patted our own jazz funk heads we rarely came up with anything above average. OK, so ”Liten vit funk” and ”Älgen dansar” are decent tracks, but why I should listen to Swedish run-of-the-mill bands when I can listen to Miles Davis, Mahavishnu or even early Weather Report is beyond me. And why I should listen to a second rate Egba when the real Egba bore me stiff most of the time is an even greater mystery. Maybe I just had too much of this watching Swedish talk shows on the telly as a kid.

But if you're a fan of Swedish jazz funk, then ”Mamba” is worth the effort to seek it out. It's competent, educated and properly executed.

One Mamba track is found on the ”Between or Beyond the Northern Lights” compilation of Nordic fusion released in 2002.

Worth noting is that guitar player Mats Norrefalk had previosly been in Saga along with November's Christer Stålbrandt. Norrefalk also played on Thomas Wiehe's 1978 album ”Två vindar”.
(Entire album in one file.)

KONTINUERLIG DRIFT – Kontinuerlig Drift (Trixie, 1977)

International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals/Instrumental

This band came to life in the early 70's as Hela Havet Stormar, but it wasn't until 1977 they got an album together. Members were from different places but as Kontinuerlig Drig they were based in Uppsala. The album however was recorded in Gävle. Drummer was Tomo Wihma who had been in Panta Rei. But if anyone hopes for Kontinuerlig Drift to be a band of similar musical precision as Panta Rei, you approach the album with the wrong expections. I've no idea as regards the leisure habits of this seven-piece, but the album certainly sounds nicely stoned. Some people claim it's a jazz rock album, but mind you, it takes more than one saxophone and an electric piano to create anything close to the jazz concept. Kontinuerlig Drift has more in common with Arbete & Fritid, Träd Gräs Och Stenar and two chord kraut jamming. Tobias Petterson informs us that they used to keep jamming on the same idea for an hour in an Amon Düül fashion, and the music on the album is indeed pretty open-ended at times. Some of it sounds decidedly impromptu, and Petterson actually slags it by saying it leaves much to be desired. Well, the playing isn't spot on, and it has its fair share of sour notes, but if you get along with Träd, Gräs Och Stenar (who's never learned to play properly during their entire career of 45 years), I can't see why you would have any troubles getting into Kontinuerlig Drift.

It's quite atypical for a 1977 album, instrumentally somewhere along the lines of early Arbete & Fritid and a style quite far from the sounds of the day, even in progg. They're a quite drone happy bunch, and that really comes to the fore in folkish numbers such as the wonderful ”Liksom en herdinna” and the guitar fuelled ”Linas Lek/Gånglåt från vettet”. They mix instrumentals with vocal tracks; the latter often with a pronounced dislike for American politics. Opening track ”Terroristen” is still chillingly accurate; a quick translation of the first verse reads:”Some that kill one or two people are called terrorists, but if you kill millions in foreign territories, you get called a patriot and a great man”.

The weakest track is ”Svarta dagar, svarta nätter” which sounds like a sloppy Jorma Kaukonen blues with a drunken Papa John Creach on violin. Thankfully, the blues is restricted to this one pointless track. Most of ”Kontinuerlig Drift” plays in the druggy drone zone. Despite the sometimes insufficient instrumental skills of some of the players, it's an album that keeps you listening and draws you back time and time again. It's a much more psychedelic album than many albums passed on as such. It's unfortunately also very rare; a mere 300 copies were pressed by the band and it's highly unlikely that they were ever distrubuted nationwide, let alone internationally. A lot of people would argue against it being essential, but it's certainly not an album I'd like to live without.

The somewhat Rick Griffin inspired album art was made by Ola Claesson (who died in 2009). Claesson also designed a Stockholm restaurant!

Several members went on to join the less interesting Turmans Band, Piano player Alf Arvidsson has recorded various 45's with several bands. He was also in Mora Träsk, Mobben and Gudibrallan. He's now an ethonology professor, having for instance classes in music ethnotlogy.. Tomo Vihma and his brother Cary died many years ago. 

Linas lek/Gånglåt från vettet 

Indianens blod

MENDOZA – Mendoza (CBS, 1972)

International relevance: ***
English vocals

Poor Mendoza got away. Released a couple of years too late, when music and aesthetics were already beginning to change, ”Mendoza” never really got much of attention. Today, it's a largely forgotten album. The fact that one track was included in the ”Pregnant Rainbows for Colourblind Dreamers” box set hasn't done much for establishing a Mendoza buzz among fans and collectors. Perhaps its reputation of being a Latin flavoured, Santana inspired record stands in the way as well. Perhaps the name Mendoza inspired this reputation; Mendoza is a very common family name in Latin America. Perhaps the album cover simply put people off, being one of the ugliest to ever come out of a Swedish printing press.

Now, the Latin influence has been vastly overstated, so anyone allergic to Santana rhythms can stop worry. I really don't know who started that rumour, but it seems that those who have actually heard the album rather stick to hearsay rthan listen to how the music actually sounds. While it does have some Latin influences, most of the album is heavy pop rock with strong melodies, excellent playing and soulful (but never overwrought) vocals. There's flute, a bit of Lesley vocals, driving guitars, wah wahs and loud pounding bass. Had it been released in the US or in perhaps more fittingly in the UK in 1969, this would have been heralded as an undisputed classic. But, as things went, this came out in Sweden where Pugh had changed the language of rock lyrics to Swedish, Fläsket Brinner pointed out new directions with their debut album the previous year, and Mendoza were two years behind on Arbete & Fritids innovative blend of jazz, drone, folk and rock. Why would anyone care about an album so blatantly advocating the sounds of yesterday?

Forty years later, such things don't matter. Today it stands out as an excellent piece of work. Hadn't it been for the braindead cover of ”Jambalaya”, the only non original track, there wouldn't have been a single inferior track on this album. It might be that choosing ”Jambalaya” as the only 45 from ”Mendoza” killed the album completely. Very bad career move.

Opening cut ”Jojk” boils with energy and enthusiasm, adding a folk element to the lush and splendorous mix. ”Steamship” has a beautiful, catchy melody that wouldn't have been out of place on a late 60's UK pop album classic. ”Hello, Hello” has the band in a slight progressive blues mood. ”A Sinful Man” is guitar heavy prog-ish rock with vague hints at Spencer Davis chestnut ”Gimme Some Lovin'”. ”Pregnant Rainbows” selection ”The Grateful Salesman & Co” take fine use of the flute to lace an already wonderful melody. And on it goes, with one brilliant track after the other. Exclude ”Jambalaya” and you have an album that's a genuine pleasure to listen to all through.

Based miles away from the big cities of Sweden, in Linköping, Mendoza toured all the Nordic countries, Great Britain and the Netherlands, to no avail. The album sank without a trace. Whatever happened to the members is beyond my knowledge. Some of them had been in bands prior to Mendoza, such as Magazine Story which even had a single out, but as far as I know, none of them turned up on another album after Mendoza. It's a sad story for such a hugely talented band. This is a classic, it's just that no-one seems to know it yet. 

Please note that some of the Youtube clips below are marred by an annoying distortion on all tracks. They will still give you a notion of the album's excellence, and inspire you to seek out a better copy of it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

FIGARO – Figaro (CBS, 1976)

International relevance: **
Swedish vocals

This is typical to what I call ”satellite progg”, something that is related to progg but not quite progg in itself.

It's fair to call Figaro a supergroup. Members Anders Nordh and Palle Sundlin had previously been in Life, Resan, King George Discovery and Baltik. Nordh was also part of, for instance, Tages extension Blond. Sundlin also played bass on Lasse Tennanders 1974 debut album ”Lars Vegas”. Singer and guitarist Peter Lundbladh had done session work for several artists and would continue doing so long after Figaro split up. He had a successful solo career, and most Swedes remember him for his painfully annoying summer hit ”Ta mig till havet”. He was also in Nailband alongside Figaro drummer Tommy Andersson, who, like Sundlin and Lundbladh, also had done stints with Lasse Tennander. The same goes for Torbjörn Eklund who had been in the obscure Opponer, and later went on to play on a couple of Bo Hansson albums, as well as the second solo album from Kebnekajse's Mats Glenngård. So it's easy to see that when Figaro got together as Duga (a pun on a Swedish expression that's impossible to translate), it was a pretty seasoned lot. In time for recording sessions for their only album, they changed their name to Figaro. It was recorded in the end of 1975, and released the following year by CBS.

The CBS label gives a clue to what they sound like. This isn't a hardboiled progg album filled to the brim with leftwing social criticism. On the contrary, it's a rather commercial sounding effort, and the band did in fact score a hit with ”Framåt” culled from the album as their only single (backed with ”DJ”, also taken from the album). The sound isn't far removed from other commercial acts of the times such as Landslaget, and sometimes there are even slight hints at teen idol Ted Gärdestad. To be honest, it's an album that I don't really want to like.

But I can help but doing so. The songs are incredibly well crafted with some imaginative chord changes. The melodies may be on the smooth side but they are simply irresistable. The playing is, as you can imagine, on the top of the heap, with Nordh in good shape. The production is dense and rich; especially the acoustic guitars have a full, ringing sound. Songs range from the mellow, Crosby Stills Nash & Young-like ”Fjärilen och katten” full of shimmering, to the heavy(ish) ”Hem” which is as far as the album ventures into progg territory.

It does have some real clunkers too though. The social commentary on cannabis use in ”Harry Brass” (translates to ”Harry Pot”) is naïve and the song is simply moronic. Equally idiotic is ”En hypokondrikers bekännelse”, but that one is short at leasta, clocking in on just over one minute. Hit single ”Framåt” might not be the best example of the album's qualities but it still has some odd appeal. The lesser tracks are in a minority, and it's tracks like the previously mentioned ”Fjärilen och katten” and ”Hem”, along with the beautiful ”Höst”, the rocking ”Hjältars hjältar”, and the lush ballad ”Egen kvinna” that defines the album.

Commercial or not, I can't help but give in to ”Figaro”.

Sadly, the best tracks off the album isn't availabe on Youtube at the time of writing, so all I can offer you is their single ”Framåt”. 

KNUTNA NÄVAR – De svarta listornas folk (Proletärkultur, 1973)

International relevance: **
Swedish vocals

Whenever someone wants to poke fun at progg music, they pull out a band like Knutna Nävar with a nasty sneer to prove just what kind of leftwing fundamentalists that made up the progg movement of the 70's. Thing is, it doesn't prove anything except that even the Movement had its maniacs too. Because although the Movement (”Musikrörelsen” in Swedish, see ”Encyclopedia of Swedish Progressive Music” for a comprehensive description) very often had its sympathies to the left side of the politics, few were as far left or proclaimed their politics with such a religious fervour as Knutna Nävar. They were affiliated with KPML(r), a revolutionary party to the extreme left, and basically the musical spokespeople for the party.

In ”99 proggplattor”, an anthology of 100 (!) newly written progg reviews, Stefan Wermelin (radio star, founder of the Musiklaget label, and once a member of The UndergroundFailure) sums it up, very accurately, this way: ”The album is worth listening to as a historical document, a musical trip into the past, performed with great gusto and conviction. Two of the songs' lyrics, 'De svarta listornas folk' and 'Hundra procent' were written by Arthur Magnusson, a Swedish revolutionary poet in the 20's and 30's. It works, as long as the lyrics originates in a time when choices were between nazism and communism. More recent lyrics, on the other hand, appear unintentionally parodic.”

Wermelin states that albums such as this were not the kind of albums that were regularly played among proggers. ”They rather belonged in the Party's office”, as he puts it. It's important to remember this every time someone tries to dismiss the entire progg movement on the grounds of one band and a coterie of airheads only. Knutna Nävar were extremists tributing Stalin, most overtly in the infamous ”Sången om Stalin”. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of historical facts will nervously laugh an awkward laugh upon hearing of Stalin as ”our friend and our comrade”.

But still. It's hard to entirely dismiss Knutna Nävar because they did have their merits. They could weave a couple of excellent songs, and they had a couple of prominently executed covers. Just listen to ”Strejken på Arendal” on this, their last album. An irresistably rocking version of the American traditional ”John Hardy”, translated to tell the story of a wildcat strike at the Arendal shipyard in October 1972. (They had previously covered the Creedence Clearwater Revival chestnut ”Proud Mary”, as ”Lär av historien”.) They also had a natural flair for slightly psychy originals in a predominantly acoustic folk vein. A track like ”Greppet hårdnar” is nothing less than excellent, but it's a hard time having the message shoved down one's throat, even to someone of more moderate leftwing opinions.

At first I considered ”De svartarna listornas folk” to be of mainly domestic interest, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that foreigners may appreciate it the most, simply because the lyrics won't get in their way. If this was performed in a language I can't speak, I would probably feel less uncomfortable listening to it. Because it's a largely good, at times excellent, album, but just about impossible to listen to due to the lyrics. Oddly enough, Knutna Nävar remain popular among a lot of people, although it's hard to say if it's because of the lyrics or in spite of them, or whether they take the lyrics seriously or not.

Whatever happened to many of the members of Knutna Nävar is largely shrouded in mystery, but Swedish actor Sven Wollter was involved in an earlier incarnation of the band (Freedom Singers). Main musicians on ”De svarta listornas folk” include Bengt Franzén, Brita Josefson, Mattias Lundälv, Lars Gerdin and Thomas Ellerås. Gerdin played congas on Proletärkultur stablemate Dan Berglund's classic ”En järnarbetares visor”, while Thomas Ellerås was also in Folk Blues Inc and other bands. He's an opera singer today.

Although Knutna Nävar's albums aren't terribly expensive (compared to other progg rarities, that is), they are rarely offered for sale. The albums have never been re-released, but you can find them as mp3's, for instance here along with other releases on the label. You should be aware, though, that the rips are in insufficient mono.

KPML(r) changed their name to Kommunistiska Partiet in 2005, and as such they still run Proletärkultur, offering mostly leftwing literature.

1. Svarta listornas folk 

2. Hundra procent

3. Till minnet av en avskedad kamrat

4. Greppet hårdnar

5. Strejken på Arendal

6. Hör maskinernas sång

7. I alla länder

8. Ho Chi Minh

8. Ut till fronten

9. Sången om Stalin

10. En arbetarkvinnas sång till sin son

11. Arbetarbröder

SUGET – Suget (Suget Musik, 1979)

International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals

Little known album from a nationally and internationally largely completely unknown band. Information on the band used to be quite rare, but a recent article in a local paper reveals a fair bit of the band's history.

Suget came from Sollefteå in the North of Sweden. At the time of recording their sole, privately released album, they consisted of a full nine people, including a horn section. They got together as early as in 1976. Their reputation grew slowly in their area, and after an outdoors gig in their hometown, they recorded ”Suget”. Singer Leif Lundberg wrote most of the slightly peculiar lyrics, while bass player Leif Lundberg penned much of the music. The band was very busy during the first years following the release, but in the mid 80's activities slowed down, although Lundberg states that they never really disbanded, only took breaks of various lengths. That said, it wasn't until 1996 that they appeared on stage for a first comeback show in Sollefteå. By the beginning of September 2012, they performed their most recent show, with songs mostly drawn from the album, but they also included a couple of recently penned songs. During the 00's, keyboard player Morgan Sjöqvist played pub gigs being Mogge in the Håkan & Mogge duo. For georgraphical reasons, questions have been raised as to possible connections with Wildmarken, also from the Sollefteå area, but as for now, nothing along those lines has been confirmed.

”Suget” was recorded in Ullånger, a few miles outside the city of Kramfors. It's a highly competent affair and quality sounding effort of basically pretty straightforward rock, although some tracks have a funky swagger. Tracks like ”Tomtar och troll” and ”Våren” even have a very appealing folk rock touch that actually reminds of UK folkers Spriguns. (If you play ”Tomtar och troll” and Spriguns' ”Dead Man's Eyes” back to back, you will notice the similarities.) Songwriting is almost consistently good and the performances are inspired. Although the songs aren't amazingly innovative, it still sounds fresh and genuine. Apart from tracks already mentioned, favourites include the flute laced ”Jag står på min himmel”, and ”En drömmare” with a distinct Latin influence and vocals slightly reminiscent of outsider hero D.R. Hooker. Suget really had that elusive unknown factor that made their album greater than it would have been if any other band would have recorded exactly the same songs in the same way. It draws you in and have you coming back to the album repeatedly. Given the album's scarcity, a CD release would certainly be welcome. It's a pity that this little gem is kept hidden in the far off North.

Thankfully, someone has it up on Youtube in its entirety for you to treat yourself with a fine slice of tail-end era progg rock.

1. Tomtar och troll
2. Våren
3. Passa dej!
4. Dagens nyheter
5. En drömmare
6. Smygarn
7. Jag står på min himmel
8. Sökka
9. Regnet
10. Vindar
(All in one file.)

BLÅ SCHÄFER – Blå Schäfer (Blå Schäfer, 1975)

International relevance **
Swedish vocals

Gothenburg based Blå Schäfer's only album is one of those that seems more interesting than it is. It's a decent effort, privately released in 1,000 copies, self distributed with an attractive cover, but it never quite takes off. Llyrics are often non rhymed and socially conscious in a leftwing fashion, dealing with environmental issues, imperialism, nazism and the life of ordinary people. Musically it's pretty standard fare rock with some folkish and progressive touches, and truth is that the band weren't distinct songwriters enough to make the songs particularly interesting.

The album was recorded in singer and guitarist Olev Ott's summer house on two Revox machines, providing a basement feel. The mixing leaves something to be desired; vocals are too loud in the mix, and had they turned up the guitars a fair bit, the album would have sounded much more balanced. Ott isn't the greatest singer in the world, and the primitive production makes him sound rather intrusive at times. The best track is the instrumental ”Valsång” that rounds off the album in a slightly druggy, relaxed mood.

The band started out in 1971 and kept going for a long time. After one 1979 single and two tracks on the ”Göteborgsrock/Ytterrock” compilation in 1982, a revamped version of the band released the ”Ge freden en chans” EP in 1986 as Ott & Friends. The band played Amnesty festivals and several charity gigs in and around Gothenburg. In the mid 00s there were plans for a new CD but nothing seems to have come of it.

The album is quite rare but rarely very expensive. I seem to recall that Ott himself had copies for sale at record fairs where he was a familiar figure among record collectors.

Stoppa freonen i spray

Thursday, October 4, 2012

ANNA SJÄLV TREDJE – Tussilago Fanfara (Silence, 1977)

International relevance: ***

Ranked #23 on the blog's Top 25 list

This overlooked duo is sometimes dismissed as a Tangerine Dream or a Ash Ra Tempel rip off, and maybe that's the reason why it isn't as heralded as it should be. True they have a sound reminiscent of some of kraut rock's more cosmische acts, but to write them off simply as epigones is unfair. There's something decidedly Swedish to them, a strong sense of a mystical fir forest blended in with the outer space soundscapes. Or if you like, they are constantly travelling the border between a wonderful dream and a haunting nightmare.

Their three dimensional sound is highly evocative, and halfway through ”Inte utanför tiden” a distant fuzz guitar kicks in, hinting at emotions provoked by the majestic Älgarnas Trädgård. ”Tussilago Fanfara” is a 40 minute floating journey through the inner and outer space.

Anna Själv Tredje, who took their name from Leonardo da Vinci's painting ”The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, managed to release this one album only, but they did several sessions for Swedish radio show Tonkraft. One track from such a session was included in the compilation series ”Tonkraft”, on the ”1977-78” volume to be precise. ”Snöfall och daggyra” is only available on this various artists compilation, and their full Tonkraft recordings serve as additional albums since they consisted of entirely exclusive material. It's well worth tracking down those rare recordings if you like ”Tussilago Fanfara”.

Leonardo da Vinci's painting, c. 1510. 
Band members Mikael Bojén och Ingemar Ljungström founded Anna Själv Tredje already in 1971. It's unclear though when they eventually split up. This is how parts of the story goes: When Ljungström met Dan Söderquist from the aforementioned Älgarnas Trädgård, they formed trio Cosmic Overdose in 1978, together with Ragnarök's Kjell Karlgren. Cosmic Overdose released two albums (plus a few singles and a cassette-only album) of excellent electronic post punk. Ljungström took the stage name Karl Gasleben (sometimes Terminalkapten Gasleben) and Karlgren performed as Regnmakarn. In 1981 Cosmic Overdose became Twice A Man after Karlgren/Regnmakarn left the group. It seems possible though that Anna Själv Tredje and Cosmic Overdose had overlapping careers for a while, as one Per-Axel Stenström claims he played with Anna Själv Tredje for a while the early 80's, i.e. after Cosmic Overdose already was in full swing. So it's possibly that Anna Själv Tredje gradually folded as Cosmic Overdose were catching speed.

At one time in the early 90's, Bojén played morning and evening shows in Slottskogen (the Central Park of Gothenburg, the stomping ground of both Anna Själv Tredje and Cosmic Overdose). According to one attendant, the performances sounded a lot like Klaus Schulze.

The stunning cover art to ”Tussilago Fanfara” was designed by the prolific Tom Benson, a noted photographer whose exceptional and suggestive photographic montages has been exhibited several times in art galleries in Sweden. Benson also took the picture of Nynningen for their ”För full hals” album, and he was a close friend of Freddie Wadling, one of Sweden's most remarkable vocalists ever. Benson unfortunately died in 2008. The cover of ”Tussilago Fanfara” fits Anna Själv Tredje's music perfectly.

”Tussilago Fanfara” is one of those albums that still demands a CD reissue. The lack thereof shows just how poorly the progg legacy is treated by the original labels and reissue labels alike. So much fabulous music is still forced to inhabit the sphere of obscurity, and it's a huge shame that this album is still part of it.

from Various Artists: "Tonkraft 1977-78" 

BLÅKULLA – Blåkulla (Anette, 1975)

International relevance: ***
Swedish lyrics

Highly acclaimed progressive outfit, often compared to Kaipa and Norweigan prog band Junipher Green. Inspiration came from Deep Purple in particular, but they still come across as a hard rock version of Swedish teenage star/teen idol of the 70's Ted Gärdestad. Yes, the playing is enthusiastic and they obviously enjoy what they're doing but no matter how much I listen to the band's sole album, it strikes me as vastly overrated. It's decent in parts, but nowhere near such a classic many claim it to be. The lyrics try hard to look intellectual but rarely elevate above the level of embarassing naivety. That will hardly bother anyone not understanding Swedish, so perhaps the major reason for ”Blåkullas” reputation is one so common within the collector crowd: loud guitars. And organs.

Blåkulla began their career in 1971 as Kendal. They came from Gothenburg on the Swedish West Coast, and recorded a couple of songs in 1974 before original bassist Steinar Arnason left the band to join Iceland (guess their origin!). Recordings from this '74 session were added to the original album as bonus tracks when it was released on CD in the mid 90's. When Arnason left, Blåkulla were close to disbanding, but were persuaded by the Anette label to record an album. Why Anette showed such an unadulterated interest is something of a mystery, given that the label was run by popular Swedish dance band Cool Candys. Maybe they simply wanted to jump the progg bandwagon. The album was released in 1,000 copies and the entire run was sold out in a whizz, making it the desirable collector's item it is today. After the album was released, organist Bo Ferm left the band which finally called it quits in at the very end of 1975.

Judging by the 1974 recordings, the band obviously had a clear vision from the start, and their eponymous release was simply a matter of refining their sound.

After the split, drummer Hannes Råstam went on to form lesser known band Text & Musik who put out two forgettable albums in the second half of the 70's. He also played drums in Björn Afzelius back-up band Globetrotters, and offered his drumming services to several other progg acts over the years. However, most people know Råstam from his excellent work as an investigative journalist for TV, a work which rendered him several desirable journalist awards. Råstam died in January 2012 but his book on Thomas Quick, a Swedish serial killer who Råstam tried to prove innocent in a book released posthumously, is currently subject to serious debate in Sweden, causing questions as to the reliability of the Swedish juridical system.

Guitarist Mats Öberg has left rock music for classical guitar, and he also works as a doctor.

Blåkulla” is an acknowledged classic and a rarity, but as far as I go, it certainly isn't worth the amount of money people ask for it.



Sirenernas sång


THE UNDERGROUND FAILURE – The Underground Failure (Black Light, 1971)

International relevance: ***
English vocals

The Underground Failure album is best known for showing the unusual talent of John Holm for the first time. Only a year later, he released the classic ”Sordin” which properly launched his irregular and often intriguing solo career. Other members also became well known although not as musicians. Lasse Ermalm became a record cover designer on many a label's payrolls, and Stefan Wermelin later on became one of Sweden's most prominent radio producers.

The Underground Failure started out in the late 60's, and as John Holm's first solo single was released in 1971, it's a safe bet that they disbanded the very same year. Their sole album was recorded in Wermelin's apartment between 1968 and 1971, and most notably features Holm's mellow and reflective songs. Many, if not most, people consider ”The Underground Failure” a weak effort (even Tobias Petterson, author of ”The Encyclopedia of Swedish Progressive Music” dismissed the album in an interview), but I disagree. Although not on par with Holm's later achievements as a solo artist, it certainly has an original feel that is strangely addictive. The primitive recording circumstances makes for a certain otherworldly atmosphere. Compared to Malaria's album which served as the main inspiration for The Underground Failure to release their own album, this is a stunning masterpiece. But then again, that doesn't say much.

Apart from Holm's slightly Dylanesque tracks, there's a slew of twisted country songs that have a charm of their own. It might be that selections such as ”Boil On My Mind”, ”All Night Looking Lonesome Blues” and the admittedly overwrought blues of ”Make Your Own Kind Of Music” disappoint the progg and folk psych diehards, earning the album its less than favourable reputation. The main part of the album however is an introspective and intimately recorded affair with John Holm's acoustic guitar at the core. A track like ”How Unpleasant To Meet Mr. Elliott” is nothing short of excellent and wouldn't have been out of place on some UK folk private of the highest order. ”The Weekend Masquerade” suggests the excellence to come in John Holm's near future, showing many of his melodic typicalities he's recognized for. ”Spring” sounds like a Fugs track in the vein of ”Morning, Morning” and ”Ah, Sunflower Weary of Time”, i.e. mysteriously serene and lysergically romantic.

The biggest problem with the album isn't the material but the decision to sing in English. Quite honestly, it's one of those examples of Swedes trying to speak English ending up sounding like complete fools. The pronounciation is a thorough disapproval of the Swedish schools' English language education back in the day.

The album was released in an original edition of 150 copies, never sold in shops, but a further 70 were pressed in 1974. The paste on cover showed a bunch of Russian musicians; the picture came from a postcard. There was also a bootleg reissue in the 80's, but it didn't do much for the album's availability. It's an extremely rare album today, as it was upon its release, but thankfully it can be heard on a limited edition CD nowadays.

Contrary to the general opion, ”The Underground Failure” is an appealing, and sometimes excellent, example of early underground singer/songwriter folk from the time when psychedelia was folding and progg was yet to properly flourish.

Outtakes from the album were released on the John Holm retrospective box set "Främmande natt" in 1997, along with a couple of solo demos in the same vein.

 The Weekend Masquerade

Spanish Sunday Adiell

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

MALARIA – Malaria (Tibet -46, 1970)

International relevance: None whatsoever, to anyone, anywhere
English vocals

To the utter dread of some of my dearest friends (my girlfriend in particular), I have a seriously developed fascination, actually liking, for outsider music. You know, those people with a strong urge to make music although they really don't know how to do it. Music many people call just plain bad. However, bad music to me is music that tries so hard to appeal ”everyone”. Music without a personality, music without an idea and a true creative drive. Simply put, music without a reason. I'd much rather listen to every Shaggs or every Kenneth Higney in the world, than sit through 2 minutes of any Rihanna song of your choice. I find these outsiders inspiring in all their whacked-out, no-clue glory.

But I do have limits to this interest. They're far off, but they exist.

Malaria is way, way, WAY beyond that limit.

Honestly, this isn't just the worst progg album I've ever heard. It's the worst album I've ever heard. Of all. And I have thousands and thousands of albums to choose from. In so many genres. There is no worse album than this in the entire world. I kid you not. I speak the truth.

So, I like people without a clue how to make music. Malaria don't even have a clue what they don't have a clue of. Pull a dictionary from your shelf. Look for every derogative word in there. Put them together and you have a positive, overrating description of this album.

I've listened to this album several times, just to figure out what the hell is going on here. But it's impossible; you can't figure it out and neither can Malaria. But here's what I think is the deal: They're trying to make a psychedelic folk album. Well, they did at least end up with an album... released in 20 copies back in 1970. I'd be surprised if they managed to unload the entire edition. If they did, only their sorry friends must have bought it. If so, Malaria likely lost the very same friends within an hour. And their parents.

The friends probably lost their parents too.

The folk medley on side 2 is, er, ”interesting”. It's so completely lost at sea with no boat in sight on the entire Northern hemisphere. Or the Southern hemisphere either. Picture a family of drunken monkeys trying to figure out whether this flute is supposed to be in your mouth or in your ass, or if you can eat this drum, and you come close to what it sounds like. Compared to that, the ”Scarborough Fair” cover that follows it is almost enjoyable...

The ”favourite” track on the album is possibly ”Hold On, Abraham” though. It has a bass solo. Or something you might want to describe as a bass solo if you're in a good mood and the sun is shining and you slept well for a good long night. I recently sent a Malaria CD-R to a friend of mine, with the appropriate warning and a malicious cheer to go along with it. He replied to me, ”I went on a Mallorca holiday for a week, and upon my return, the bass solo was still playing...” And remember, when the bass solo ends, it's followed by a guitar solo...

To say that the three Malaria guys, whose names shall be kept in secret out of care of their possible children, don't know how to play is to give unnecessary credit to their... musicianship. It's as if they've never seen a musical instrument ever before in their entire lives. ”Look! Is this what they call a guitar? Oh, this hole here, I think you're supposed to shout into it! Golly gee, I'm a guitarist now! Girls like guitarists! Cool!”

There was a vinyl reissue of this album in the 90's. I think it was in an edition of 200 copies. I used to have one of those. I bought it second hand in the shop where I first heard it. I needed to have it as a reminder of the first experience. It made me laugh so hard I accidentally turned another customer over; he was squatting on his haunches and I was laughing so hysterically I wasn't aware of him. I just couldn't stop laughing.

The knocked over guy didn't return to the shop for several months.

Later I sold my copy. I explained to the guy behind the counter just how bad the album was. He doubled the price I asked for it. ”If it's that bad,” he said, ”someone will buy it before the end of the week.” He was right. That's record collecting for you, folks!

If I am to say something good about this album, how impossible it may seem, then I guess it has to be that it reputedly inspired The Underground Failure to record and release their album soon after. If it isn't true, then there's nothing good to say about Malaria.

The Tibet -46 label later evolved into Musiklaget who released a handful of albums in the 70's.

Sorry, I couldn't find any links for this album. 

No, I lied. I'm not sorry at all.

Monday, September 24, 2012

PUGH – Ja dä ä dä! (Metronome, 1969)

International relevance ***
Swedish vocals

Ranked #9 on the blog's Top 25 list

If the words ”legendary” and ”classic” were invented for a reason, then ”Ja dä ä dä!” is that reason. Generally considered the first proper rock album entirely sung in Swedish, this is where the whole Swedish progg music really began. True that bands like Baby Grandmothers and Hansson & Karlsson had been going on prior to the release of Pugh's debut, but this album took it all one step further. If not three steps further. Because there had never been an album like this before, not in Sweden, and not internationally.

It's an utterly groovy album (groovy as in ”groovy, man!” and as in organic, swinging, moving rhythms), recorded after Pugh escaped mandatory military service. The playing is top notch, loose and free and yet with excellent discipline. It's amazing how richly textured a trio can be, but then again, the musicians are among the very finest Sweden had to offer at the time. Janne Carlsson is the Karlsson (note the change in spelling!) in the aforementioned Hansson & Karlsson, while Georg Wadenius, popularly known as Jojje, later had fame in Made in Sweden, fortune in Blood, Sweat and Tears, and sheer excellence on the children's album ”Goda' goda'”. He's best known as a guitarist so it's curious to hear him pounding away on the bass on ”Ja dä ä dä!”. Guitars are in fact played by Pugh himself; wild, stoned, crazy guitars at its finest. In many ways, the trio is closer to jazz than rock music. No wonder, as Carlsson was a jazz drummer from the beginning.”Ja dä ä dä!”.

What makes this a Swedish classic is of course the lyrics. Not only because it was the first time we had a rock album sung entirely in Swedish, but also because Pugh had a very original way to use the Swedish language. No one has every written lyrics in a similar fashion as Pugh. They are deep and naive at the same time. At a first glance they might appear as simple banalities, but nothing could be further from the truth. There's a whole lot of depth beneath the surface of the playful sentences, and it's a pity that this is lost on a foreign listener not familiar to the Swedish language. (He even touched on homsexuality in the song ”Du tände lyset Andersson” – not a common topic in 60's lyrics.) But don't let the language put you off, because even if you don't know a single word of what Pugh sings, the music speaks on a level that can be fully understood by anyone with a heart and a soul. The great playing would mean nothing at all if it wasn't for the excellent songwriting. ”Ja dä ä dä!” doesn't have a single weak track.

"Här kommer natten", released as a single, also in 1969.
But it does offer some favourites. ”Här kommer natten” is one of the best songs ever to emerge from the pen of a Swedish songwriter, and ”Små lätta moln” is summer at its most romantic. The cover of Kurt Weill's ”Surabaya Johnny” (in Swedish, of course) slips effortlessly in with the original numbers. When speaking of classic debut albums, this is among the very best.

A curious fact is that US label Vault licensed this for an American release in 1970. Vault obviously specialized in albums with no commercial potential whatsoever, but even by their standards, ”Ja dä ä dä!” (renamed ”Ja da a da!” for the domestic market – as if that would make any more sense!) is among their very weirdest releases. The vocals weren't overdubbed with English lyrics, but the back cover sported English translations of the words, complete with some unintentional humour to Swedish readers. (”You switched the light on Andersson” just doesn't sound very catchy in English.) If the lyrics was a mystery even translated, one can only imagine what troubles Pugh's name might have caused over there. Pugh's real name is Torbjörn Rogefeldt, and even that would have been a better name when trying to market his album to non-Swedish record buyers. I mean, how do you pronounce Pugh? Like ”Pew”? ”Pewg”? ”Puff”? ”Pah”? The correct answer is something like ”Puhgg” but who could tell?

I have no idea how many US copies were pressed, but it's a safe bet that the lion's share of the edition were shipped to Sweden. Every once in a while US copies turn up for sale here, and I've seen more of these than of Swedish originals over the years. (The album has since been rereleased many times. Those who take notes of sleeve variations, originals have the title in black lettering, whereas later copies are in white. It also comes with a foldout cover with an orange lyric sheet stapled to the spine inside. Also, blue record label.)

Another funny anecdote regarding Pugh is that the politically questionable writer Michael Moynihan in his book on the Norweigan black metal scene, ”Lords of Chaos”, stated that Pugh was the guy behind Swedish black metal pioneers Bathory. I can hereby clarify that this is NOT the case...

Hopefully, time has turned for the better as regards this album's international appeal. What must have been nothing more than a confusing curio on the international market in 1970 ought to stand out as a striking masterpiece some 40 years later. Given the ever growing interest in international progressive music, this should be hailed worldwide as the true masterpiece it is. Like I said, there never was an album like it, and I'll even go as far as to say there never will.

By the way, the title means ”Yes, it is!” and is spelled in the dialect of Västerås, the town where Pugh grew up. 

(whacked out demo version of "Små lätta moln", not on original album)