Wednesday, July 17, 2013
International relevance: ***
Likely the most surprising inclusion in any forum dedicated to progg music, as Claes af Geijerstam generally speaking is as far away from all things progg as you can possibly imagine. In the 60's, af Geijerstam scored a line of hits as a core member of beat/pop/garage band Ola & The Janglers. Those who listened to Swedish radio in the 70's remembers him the best as the host of the extremely popular radio show Rakt över disc where he each week played the latest disco and pop singles, DJ-ing his way through the selections with a voice at manic speed, a style he had developed as a DJ as early as in the late 60's. Groundbreaking for sure, but completely unlistenable to anyone who couldn't stand his motor driven mouth or didn't share his taste in music. His commercial flair again came into the fore when he was a jury member during the earliest seasons of the Swedish Idol contest. All in all, his hit sensibilities have always overshadowed any possible progg approach. And yes, ”Out of My Hair” – his solo debut following soon after the breakup of Ola & The Janglers – is on the commercial side of things, too, but only a quick glance at the line-up reveals obvious progg connections.
Guitarist Björn Linder can be heard on albums by Sam Ellison, Ola Magnell, Marsfolket and Blues Annika to mention but a few. Björn Skifs is an allround entertainer who has had a remarkably lengthy career in his own right, but his involvement with Marsfolket, Slim Borgudd and hammond queen Merit Hemmingson is his most interesting collaboration from a progg angle. Göran Lagerberg needs no introduction to the progg aficionado, having played with everything and everyone from Bo Hansson to Egba, from Kebnekajse to Baltik. Jan Bandel's been on Atlantic Bay's, Folk & Rackare's, Handgjort's, John Holm's and Hawkey Franzén's pay rolls, amongst others. Janne Schaffer is of course the well seasoned studio musician on numerous high profile albums, and has released plenty of solo albums. Mike Watson is similarly versatile and can be heard on the feminist various artists compilation ”Sånger om kvinnor” as well as on a couple of Björn J:son Lindh albums. Tommy Körberg is hailed for his vocal abilities (as in Solar Plexus and the comeback album by Made In Sweden), but handles the guitar on ”Out of My Hair”. So despite the overtly accessible nature of the album, it still has quite a few progg credentials.
Truth is it's a really nice album, with slight touches of David Bowie on the verge of glam rock, or Paul McCartney in his early Wings days, although neither Bowie or Wings had exploded yet in 1970. af Geijerstam is an adroit enough singer to deliver the tuneful and sometimes surprisingly jammy songs (as in the excellent extended ”St. Georgie's Road”). Those who deny any progg with a higher level of skillfulness than Träd, Gräs Och Stenar, Gudibrallan or Telefon Paisa/Sogmusobil will probably cringe at the album's ”slickness”, but you know, we all have our problems... ”Out of My Hair” isn't one of mine; I play it every once in a while and finds it to be a pleasant, loveable and sometimes even brilliant melodic album with post-psychedelic strains and proto-glam moves.
The album had a French release with a different sleeve.
(Sorry, I could find no Youtube links for the album!)
International relevance: ***
Swedish and English vocals
Sweden has always been a nation of hard rock fans and musicians. From the early days of Cream inspired power trios, through appreciated acts like Neon Rose and even Christian band Jerusalem, up to the current triumphs of Opeth, hard rock and metal in all shapes and colours have been vastly popular here. Bands like November and Life are heralded among collectors, but the heavy genre also had a widespread undergrowth, with acts such as Slite Cement, White and the NWOBHM inspired Rhapsody.
Among those, White were one of the most original outfits. Frequently crossing the border between progressive rock and hard rock, they played a rather unique kind of music as documented on ”I denna samling”. Major label Polydor recognized their talent, signed them, but obviously failed to grant them a less amateurish producer to make the album sound good enough. The sound is a bit murky and stiff, and I assume that a better represention of their songs would have given them a greater impact. Perhaps that's the reason why I can't quite get into ”I denna samling”. It's obviously a good album with imaginative songwriting, but this kind of music needs a more powerful sound to really make sense and leave a proper impression.
White hailed from Malmö and started out already in the late 60's. An apocryphical tidbit of information is that successful singer Dan Hylander were member of a band called White 1970-1972. Could it possibly be the same band that put out ”I denna samling” almost a decade later? In any case, White disbanded in 1981, and one of the members went on to play with curious rock singer Kal P. Dal. Drummer Göran Olsson can now be found in spacerock band Drahk Von Trip who released a couple of albums in the 00's.
Some trivia: ”I denna samling” was recorded in three different versions, one with Swedish lyrics, one with English lyrics, and the third with Danish (?!) lyrics. Only the Swedish version saw the light of day. Whatever happened to the international versions?
All in all, ”I denna samling” is a better album than the production suggests. For fans of obscure hard rock, this is a mandatory listen, but for others, it's far from essential.
International relevance: ***
Swedish and Greek vocals
This isn't progg in a traditional sense, but folk music by Greek born duo Takis and Afrodite Vouis. But it is an example of how a lot of music, not necessarily progg, was embraced by the progg movement in Sweden in the 70's, being released by MNW in their shortlived series of mini albums (or EP's if you like although they played at 33 1/3 rpm) which also included an extremely rare English language release by Hoola Bandoola Band. With parts of the movement infused by left wing politics, attraction to folk music from different parts of the world where social struggle was the order of the day quickly grew. The Latin American situation in the 70's spawned an interest in for most notably Chilean music. Also important to note is that since World War II up to the mid 70's, immigrants came from Yugoslavia, Turkey, Greece, Austria and Italy to live and work in Sweden. It's no wonder then that many musicians from perhaps particularly Greece and Turkey played in various Swedish venues establishing (or continuing) a career, such as Ziya Aytekin and the exceptional Maffy Falay from Turkey, and, from Greece, Takis and Afrodite.
Takis was born in Rhodes, while Afrodite came from Thessaloniki. Takis lived in Sweden already in the 60's, but met his future wife in Greece where she sang Italian opera. Takis main interest was Greek music, and soon Afrodite changed her repertoire to traditional music and songs written by Takis and rooted in the native traditions close to his heart. In 1971, they both moved to Sweden where they recorded the ”Dirlada” EP the following year, with four songs in Greek and two in Swedish. Backing the couple on the record is a band called the Rhodians, assumably consisting of Swedish musicians although I have never been able to confirm who they were.
”Dirlada” is a loveable little album, with Takis' rich baryton and Afrodite's slightly husky voice interweaving in a bunch of well executed songs with piano, hand drums and, of course, bouzouki. The title track is a teasingly catchy number. But the best song is ”To Taxidi”, a moody, brooding song with Takis providing a haunting musical backdrop with rolling guitar playing.
Greek music might not be everybody's cup of tea, but this is indeed a nice example of its qualities. Takis Vouis has since made several albums, both as a solo performer and as a collaborator. I'm not sure if he's still a Swedish resident, but I know he's been playing concerts in Rhodes. Afrodite Vouis' whereabouts since the release of ”Dirlada” are completely unknown to me.
International relevance: ***
Out of the depths of obscurity come Nordvision, a virtually unknown four-piece with members from Sweden and Denmark. They recorded their debut – the only album they released – in Malmö in early 1975. A highly competent effort, it offers eleven instrumental tracks, all of them arrangements of traditional folk songs from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.
The music has been compared to Björn J:son Lindh's early albums, and it's a pretty accurate description although ”Nordvision” has no flute. Bass player Mads Vinding actually played on J:son Lindh's ”Boogie Woogie”the year before. Guitarist Christer Karlberg and drummer/percussionist Peter Winberg was also in Storm with Swedish poet Jacques Werup. The band's other guitar player Mikael Neumann is the son of well known guitarist Ulrik Neumann. He was also an actor, has worked for Swedish television and written several stage revues for Swedish comedienne Eva Rydberg.
”Nordvision” isn't a particularly good album. The musicians are skilled, but their flirtations with jazz and fusion is a bit on the dull side. At times it sounds like music used in a television documentary on the Northern wild life. Funky opener ”Å inte ska jag sörja” is decent and by far the best track on the album; it might appeal to fans of Made In Sweden or Janne Schaffer's early albums.
Released on the tiny (private?) Artist label, it's a rare album but nothing anyone should pay a lot for, unless you're an unreasonable fusion completist.
International relevance: **
Dennis Huntington had made a bit of a name for himself years before he founded Huntington Band. He used to be in the little heard Lag & Ordning who released an album in 1979, ”51, Moderately Beat”, four years after it was recorded. His best known work ought to be with Love Explosion, whose ”Bästa låtar” is an unhinged proto-punk classic.
Huntington Band's only album is held in lower esteem than his previous bands. Perhaps because it's a less frantic effort, more along the lines of Motvind, Nationalteatern, Mobben and Ensamma Hjärtan's more straightforward songs. It's fair to say that it is a Gothenburg album typical of its time; the Gothenburg bands were less experimental and relied more on blues based rock with a harder edge than their Stockholm contemporaries in particular. Gothenburg has always been a workers' town, a left wing stronghold, and it's not too far fetched too say that the down to earth approach to life also affected many of the 70's bands.
It's a pity that Huntington Band's eponymous album is overlooked. Huntington himself was a good songwriter as proven by this album as much as anything else he did. ”Vad är det som händer” is a hard rocking number, while ”Barn av vår tid” (not to confuse with the Nationalteatern song of the same name) adds a semi-funky groove. ”Utan moral” veers towards Santana territory, with an eager drive and a contagious beat. Ten minute track ”Tre hjältar” rounds off the album in an angst ridden way, as grey as the concrete houses of a Gothenburg suburb. Famous saxophone player Christer Boustedt adds a crying alto sax to the song which further adds to its sense of underlying desperation. Tracks like ”Vårt samhälle” and ”Håll mig hårt” are probably responsible for giving the album a reputation of being a blues rock album, but although being a no-nonsense, straight ahead album, it's more varied than your standard palefaced blues rock album.
Being such a neglected effort, ”Huntington Band” is still pretty cheap in terms of value, but it doesn't show up very often. Being released on Gothenburg's premiere progg label Nacksving, it's likely easiest to find locally in and around Gothenburg. It's well worth to pick up if you run across it, but you should bear in mind that the focus to a fair extent lies on the lyrics, why foreign listeners miss out on some important aspects of the songs.
Huntington Band did at least one session for the Swedish Radio but they're unfortunately not included in the massive live recordings compilation box set ”Progglådan”.
Dennis Huntington also wrote songs for fellow Gothenburgers Röda Ropet, and he later became the drummer for Togges Gossar, an obscure outfit that, apart from playing at weddings and parties, released a mere three singles in the 80's. Huntington sadly died in 2011. His son Ivar Huntington plays in a band called Fred På Jorden who performed some of his dad's songs at a memorial concert in 2012.
1. Vad är det som händer
2. Inga sorger mer
2. Inga sorger mer
3. Det kan vara en vän
4. Barn av vår tid
1. Utan moral
2. Vårt samhälle
2. Vårt samhälle
3. Håll mig hårt
4. Tre hjältar
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
International relevance: ***
English and Swedish vocals
Sometimes regarded as a continuation of Telefon Paisa (or if you prefer, Sogmusobil). Truth is that only two of the members had previously been in Telefon Paisa: Johnny Mowinckel, and the ever so illustrious character Einar Heckscher. There are also only a few musical similarities between the two bands, with Levande Livet being far more skilled than Telefon Paisa and their pathologically untogether, albeit strangely attractive, freak jams.
”Strömmens pärla” is all over the place, stylistically. They move from the scruffy blues of ”Bellman” and album opener ”Mänskolivet”, through some sort of jazz in ”Samma samba”, to a kind of singer/songwriter rock not entirely unlike John Holm in ”Out of This Mess” and the slightly psychy ”Fri idrott”. The high points of the album however are the two final tracks, ”Hr. Drever & hr. Ströver” and ”Strömmens pärla”. The first one is the album's shortest track, but long enough to get into a stoned groove. (No wonder, since the band was excessively into a variety of stimulants...) The title track on the other hand is the longest piece, a loud, gritty workout with a prominent horn section including jazz trumpeter Maffy Falay – later of Sevda fame – blows it out, and some loudmouthed wah wah guitar.
It's a pity that the vocals are too low in the mix. Well, some might appreciate that they're are barely audible at times, as Einar Heckscher admittedly isn't the greatest singer in the world. He has a gruff, gravelly voice that sometimes hit the notes and sometimes not. I for one actually like his ”who gives a shit anyway” style of singing, but I know that some people find it brutally off-putting.
”Strömmens pärla” is by no means a masterpiece, but I'm quite fond of their dirty sound. Fans of Gudibrallan and Love Explosion will likely groove hard to it if you can find a copy. It's among the rarest LP's on the Silence label.
Those who want more Levande Livet in their lives ought to check out the recently released 40 CD (!!!) box set ”Progglådan” which features a live recording, also from 1973 and made for Swedish Radio broadcasting corporation. Slightly heavier and noisier, that recording is a fine complement to their lone studio album.
Almost all of the members went on to other glories after Levande Livet disbanded. Gunnar Bergsten later brought his saxophone to Bo Hansson, Mikael Ramel and Xtra sessions. He had previously been in avant jazzers G.L. Unit, as well as in Fläsket Brinner and, along with Maffy Falay, in the aforementioned Sevda. Hans Berggren turned up many years later in an obscure band called Happy Boys Band who managed to release one single only in 1980. Bass player Lars Bergström and guitar slinger Tommy Broman eventually teamed up with the infamous Tom Zacharias on the latter's equally infamous ”Belinda” albums. Broman also recorded one solo album for the YTF label in 1976. Peter Smoliansky is the son of renowned jazz singer Nannie Porres, and founded garage rhythm & blues band Rost in the late 70's before joining highly successful rock act Eldkvarn for several years in the 80's and early 90's. He plays darbouka on ”Strömmens pärla”, as he prior to that also did with Anita Livstrand. Einar Heckscher became a noted translator of predominantly American underground literature, and he's also the brother of Social Democrat Sten Heckscher who during several years was head Police Commissioner in Sweden.
International relevance: ***
Vocals in various languages
A highly intriguing album, from the music itself right down to the cover sporting a painting by the excellent Channa Bankier who is still active as a painter, having exhibitions from time to time. (The painting itself is titled ”Mötet”, ”The Meeting”, just like the album.)
Anita Livstrand has a colourful history. As a 16 year old, she started playing in the streets 1969, performing songs by the likes of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell and, oddly enough, Träd, Gräs Och Stenar. She got turned on to ethnic music when she bought the Turkish saz to which she started making up songs without words. For a short while she was part of the all-female band Luftbolagets Aftonstuvning who sadly enough never released any music. Another member of shortlived outfit was Helene Bohman who later recorded an album under the alias Stenblomma, now considered a classic by progg aficionados.
In 1974, Livstrand expanded her knowledge in foreign instruments as she acquired a tamboura, on which she accompanied several Indian musicians on their visits to Sweden. She teamed up with plenty of prominent Swedish musicians for recording sessions, such as Jan Hammarlund, Turid Lundqvist,, Archimedes Badkar and Thomas Mera Gartz on his underrated ”Sånger” album from 1976. She also contributed to a couple of various artists compilations before she made her solo debut with ”Mötet” in 1978, to this day the only album to bear her full name on the front cover.
Long before the term ”world music” was coined, she weaved together an array of musical threads from around the world. ”Mötet” exposes you to blues, Bulgarian and Hungarian folk singing and Indian and Turkish influences, as well as Scandinavian traditions. All blends together to a remarkably eclectic mix that modern day world music yet has to rival. ”Mötet” is profound, spiritual, earthy and serene, most of the time all at once. The album features contributions from several stellar progg musicians with a flair for multifaceted music. Samla Mammas Manna offered Lars Hollmer and Coste Apetrea to the album's lineup, while the late Thomas Mera Gartz of Träd, Gräs Och Stenar also joined in. Not to mention Turid, Bill Öhrström, Ulf Wallander and astonishing drummer Bengt Berger. All making sure to bring the very best out of the music. If there's a single reason for inventing the word ”organic”, then this album is it. The music flows effortlessly, like a curiously effervescent stream. The music may be acoustic, but the experience is electrifying.
Given the amounts of excellent progg albums released during the first half of the 70's, it's sometimes easy to forget the nuggets from the later progg days, but ”Mötet” is one of those latter period gems. It easily stands out as one of the most inventive and exhilarating releases during the entire progg era!
After ”Mötet”, Livstrand joined forces with another one of the most broadminded singers Sweden had to offer in those days, Marie Selander. With Vargavinter, they released two albums of similar excellence, following the direction pointed out by ”Mötet”. The 80's saw Livstrand participate in recordings by Bengt Berger's Bitter Funeral Beer Band, Bolon Bata (on the mindblowing ”Trance Dance” album) and Barrikadorkestern. In the early 90's she turned into band leader herself in Anitas Livs. Live shows and albums by Anitas Livs proved that she never lost touch with music from all over the world; I saw them back then and it was a truly vitalising experience.
Surprisingly enough, and for some mysterious reason, ”Mötet” was released as a music cassette in Australia 1980. Thankfully, it was also graced with a CD release in the mid 00's, with a slightly altered sleeve.
International relevance: ***
One of the most legendary albums to come out of the Swedish progg scene, and also one of the earliest. It's almost mythical to collectors, being extremely hard to find and fetching ridiculous prices any rare time it's offered for sale. It was ninth album release on MNW, one of the most important labels of the Swedish 70's, putting out many stellar albums of the era.
Scorpion was in fact MNW head honcho Bo Anders Larsson's own one-off project. Larsson had previously been in Tintacs who had two singles out in the late 60's. Tintacs soon became Ron Faust who put out a fine 45, ”I Wanna Hold You” b/w ”I Keep on Moving”, in 1969. Both incarnations of the band also featured Lorne de Wolfe who later made a mark in history as a member of Contact, Vargen, and much later and to a lot lesser artistic extent, Hansson de Wolfe United. The entire Contact back Larsson on ”I Am the Scorpion”, and being produced by Kim Fowley, it's like the evil cousin to Contact's – much more subdued – debut album ”Nobody Wants to Be Sixteen”.
With the first side of the album having the guitars going on the red and the drums pounding on your eardrums, side B might come as an unpleasant surprise. Much mellower, and in parts downright terrible. It begins with one of the lousiest tracks ever recorded in Sweden, ”Michoican” (backed with another pointless album track, the parodic blues track ”Everybody Knows My Name”). Why this jolly-jolly-ho-ho-ho-thumbs-up-yeehah crap was chosen as a single – A side at that! – is a complete mystery. Somebody must have had a severe brain loss picking that as some kind of attempted hit.
The rest of the second side is much better, but a far cry from the stunning first one. Much more in a 60's beat style, it does have its pleasant moments, such as the freakbeat rumbler ”Hey La La La” if you're into that sort of thing.
”I Am the Scorpion”, as a whole, is a disappointment – especially if you fork out the money dealers ask for it without knowing what the B side is like. Side A, however, is as heavy and rough as music got in 1970, up there with the best and rawest US garage rock of the era. Do keep in mind though, that nice copies are hard to find of the early MNW releases, including "I Am the Scorpion". The vinyl they used were hardly audiophile stuff...
As an afterthought, Scorpion released a non album 45 in 1971, a cover of ”It's All Over Now”, made famous by the Rolling Stones, coupled with a screaming five and a half minutes of ”Wolves Mouth Song”. Almost as impossible to find as the album, this certainly is in the vein of the album's prime side. ”It's All Over Now” gets a blasting devil-may-care treatment sure to fry your brain. ”Wolves Mouth Song”, although being entirely instrumental, is Scorpion at their (or his) uttermost finest. It was later transformed into ”Fuck the Cops” by Swedish-Norweigan hippie duo Charlie & Esdor.
International relevance: ***
Today, five-piece Dunder is a little known outfit. Originally called Dunder Å Snus when they started out in 1976, they hailed from the small industrial community of Hallstahammar with a population of no more than 10,000. Although they might not be well known today, their sole album was well recieved by critics and the audience upon its release in 1978. Wrote Dagens Nyheter, Sweden's leading daily paper: ”A tight, massive and intense kind of rock music pours out of this band”, and another magazine called ”Dunder” a ”thundering debut album”, alluding to the group's name which means ”Thunder” in English. ”The album actually puts Dunder in the frontline of Swedish rock,” the writer continues. And true is they're far heavier than many a band in Sweden at the time. The native tongue lyrics are only vaguely political, which had leading progg mag Musikens Makt asking how Dunder had the nerve to dub their music progressive. It probably didn't help the band getting the orthodox progg movement grace that the album was released through major label Mercury Records. Also, the music is more straightforward than their peers', which had the band facing troubles getting gigs. ”There are almost no places for a progressive band like us, without a political message,” the band complained to an interviewer. Still, they managed to in neighbouring cities, and also scored a tour up north in Sweden. They also proved very successful in European radio show competition ”Europatoppen”, in which they got more votes than the well established and beloved Pugh Rogefeldt.
All material on the album is original, eleven well crafted tracks with prominent guitars and a tight, driving sound. Good vocals too, courtesy of Franco Mavica. ”Dunder” is a consistent effort, relying on the heaviness and thankfully keeping the ballads to a minimum. Closing track ”Medan tiden flyr” is an exception, laced with a string arrangement and a pseudo baroque melody line that I suspect would have fitted noted Swedish singer Tommy Körberg just nicely. ”Varje låt har sin egen tid” on the other hand sees the band at its most hard rocking, while ”Ge mig liv” adds a tasteful dash of gospel in the vocal harmonies. ”Dunder” is a group effort; no member gets a single songwriter's acknowledgement as all tracks are credited to the band collectively.
I haven't been able to confirm any live recordings by the band which is a pity since the album's style suggests they must have been a blazing stage act. They did however plan for a second album, but before those plans materialized, Dunder's break-up was announced by a local paper in June 1979. A single with English versions of album tracks "Strul" and "Stormvarning", retitled "Struggle" and "Dreams" respectively was about to be released but never got beyond the test pressing stage. They did a (one-off?) reunion in 1982 when they performed a local show, gracing the setlist with old Dunder chestnuts along with a couple of new songs. Unfortunately, these were never commited to vinyl.
Curiously enough, Dunder was offered the song "Skateboard", a translated version of The Carvells' "L.A. Run", but rejected it why it was given to disco pop band Magnum Bonum instead. Magnum Bonum scored a huge hit with the track, thereby annoying every Swede with a functioning brain for ages in 1978.
Drummer Carl Moser later joined heavy metal band Pegasus which later evolved into Lynx, as such releasing a full length album in 1985 along with a self-released 45 and a bunch of tracks on a various artists compilation.
Monday, July 15, 2013
International relevance: ***
Miklagård (the old Norse name for Istanbul) were an obscure Gotland based symphonic trio without a guitar player. It's tempting to call them keyboard led, but due to an oddly diffuse production, no instrument seems to take the place up front. Not even the vocals, but regardless of the vague production, they are surprisingly weak for a symphonic album anyway. The line-up is fleshed out by some violin and trumpet, but they too fail to make the music distinct enough.
As suggested by the album cover, Miklagård moves in the territory mapped out by the likes of Genesis, Le Orme, perhaps even Klaatu. Then, throw in a bit of Kaipa and a tad Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Thankfully, Miklagård steer clear of the most annoying quasi-classical moves, focusing on mellow songs and not very complex arrangements. This is symphonic prog at its simplest, for both good and bad. The longest track is ”Soldaten”, almost reaching the 13 minute mark, but that is just more of the same albeit over a longer time.
Truth is, they weren't a very skilled or talented band, and the music seems to lack ambition. The lyrics are often silly, something that will hardly bother any foreign listener as all songs are sung in Swedish.
Sweden had several gifted symphonic bands in the 70's, but Miklagård weren't one of them. As there seem to be no other albums released on the Edge label, I assume that Miklagård's sole album, recorded during three months in 1979, was a private release. It's said to have had an original run of 1500 copies, but it's still fairly easy to find pretty cheap. There is also a Japanese CD reissue from a few years back on the Tachika label.
6. Mellanspel (Erotic Views Approaching)
International relevance: **
You'd be hard pressed to find anyone any more egomaniacal than Erik Aschan (pronounced Askhan). I doubt any other artist has ever managed to mention his own name as many times on an album than Aschan. But then again, Erik Aschan is no ordinary guy. Of all the Swedish artists, he might be the one most fittingly called an outsider.
Child of a Dutch father and a mother working as a teacher and an actor, Erik Aschan (later Zürcher) was born in Stockholm in 1953. He moved to Västerås (the town made forever famous for being Pugh Rogefeldt's hometown) at an early age. He spent a great deal of his youth in foster care, socialized with biker gangs, before eventually attending art school in Västerås. After a stint in Lund in the south of Sweden, he ends up in Linköping. In the early 70's he started writing his own songs, and after being turned down by several record companies, he put out his debut album by himself in 1973.
His music has always had a strange, offbeat feel, portraying Aschan as someone who never quite fits in with society, always slightly incapable in terms of relations with other people. I can't put my finger on exactly why, but there's something eerie about a lot of his songs, something so alienated that you can't help but feel uneasy listening to them. Actually, I've never been able to quite get my head around the Aschan character, but that is part of the appeal. Sometimes it's hard to take him seriously, even though his songs always have a profound serious strain, and sometimes the music is so touching that it's impossible to turn away from it. ”You might think I'm ridiculous, but I'm dead serious, I mean every word I say”, he sings. Well, it took me many, many years to actually listen to it in a serious way. But things change.
His first two albums are four years apart, whereas ”Så länge ni vägrar att lyssna”, his third, appeared two years after his second, in 1979. The lyrics, all sung in Swedish, range from the pathetic and downright untalented to the poetically sensitive. The arrangements are sparse with Aschan's acoustic guitar at the core, laced with a soft electric bass and the occassional brittle electric guitar. I've seen dealers trying to pass off this album as something similar to Nick Drake, but regardless of its acoustic nature, the comparison is just silly. Erik Aschan is nowhere near Drake, neither in performance, nor lyrical sensibilities.
But yes, there is something about this album. Aschan is certainly progg in feel and execution (mening, it's more important to express yourself than to do it perfect), yet he's so far removed from anything typical to progg. He's far removed from just about everything. He's a rare bird, seemingly completely unaware of what's actually ”appropriate” to sing about. Or how to write a lyric. I doubt there's ever been anyone coming up with a song title like ”Du går fram som en slåttermaskin” - ”You go on like a mower”. Erik Aschan simply doesn't look upon the world as most others do. A lost soul in a cold world.
Of his original albums, ”Så länge ni vägrar lyssna” is the best. It was originally released in 300 copies, but had a second pressing of a further 5-600 copies, making it his best distributed album. You can occassionally find it in thrift stories and second hand shops, but as interest in outsider music and Swedish progg continue to grow, it's getting harder and harder to come by. However, some songs from ”Så länge ni vägrar lyssna” (along with selections from his other albums) are available for download on Aschan's website: http://akultur.org/aschan/mp3.html. Unfortunately, the best track off the album isn't there, the decidedly creepy and Bobb Trimble-like "Det liv du stal ifrån mig (Black Mother)".
International relevance: ***
Often lumped in with the Zeuhl bands, I still think Kultivator has a lot more to do with the British art rock style somewhere in-between King Crimson, Henry Cow and even Soft Machine, than with Magma or later generation Zeuhl act Kōenji Hyakkei. For Swedish references, ”Klossa knapitatet” era Samla Mammas Manna is probably the most appropriate parallel. Kultivator's sole album ”Barndomens stigar” stands up well to any international comparisons, with tight and intelligent compositions, excellently executed with the nothing short of amazing Johan Svärd on drums and bass player Stefan Carlsson. Kultivator had a connection with the legendary Ur Kaos as keyboard player Johan Hedrén were in both bands for a while. Together they formed the core of the highly active art rock scene in Linköping, a city otherwise best known for its university and the vanguard hospital. With Lars ”Lach'n” Jonsson, highly talented musician and owner of the Bauta Records label, the scene had an obvious centre. Bauta Records is still active, providing the world with top notch Swedish progressive rock with a striking arty edge.
Recorded in 1980 but not released until the following year, ”Barndomens stigar” kicks off with the energetic ”Höga hästar”, one of the album's definite highlights, with Svärd going wild on the drums. Energy is like a code word for the album; even the title track which relies on a somewhat subdued folksy or baroque sounding themes has an inherent force that is anything but relaxing.
As mentioned above, Kultivator's compositional skills are proven again and again throughout the album. Some prog (and for that matter, progg) bands just don't seem to understand the cause-and-effect function of musical segments, haphazardly jumbling up a bunch of themes and time signatures, but Kultivator has a firm grasp of causal musical relations. However, ”Barndomens stigar” is a much freer spirit than the regular, strictly performed Zeuhl album, why some Zeuhl fans have expressed their disappointment with the album – another reason why it shouldn't be forced into an area where it doesn't fit too well. The thing is that ”Barndomens stigar” is an original piece of work and should be approached as such.
The album has been released on CD twice. The first time around, two tracks were added to the original running order. ”Häxdans” connects well with the title track taking good use of baroque influences. ”Tunnelbanan” is a medley recorded live in their native Linköping two years prior to the release of the original album. Although not as focused as the remainder of the album, the track nevertheless shows they were on to something already in the 70's.
Some years ago, Mellotronen released a further enhanced version of the album, including not only a live version of album track ”Novarest”, but a bonus EP entitled ”Waiting Paths”, comprising four songs recorded by the re-united band in 2006. Still a great band, they kept the intensity of 1980 a bit at bay, going for a slightly more reflective approach, as in the beautiful ”Bringing Water”. Although less zealous, in a sense more ”mature”, these four songs don't detract from the original album's excellence. The Mellotronen version of ”Barndomens stigar” is the one to get.
Johan Hedrén has been involved in several Bauta releases, and has also released a tranquil ambient styled solo album entitled ”Kretslopp” which also featured a set of paintings by Linköping born and bred artist Ola Freijd. Ingemo Rylander appears on J. Lachen's solo release ”Music for the Dying Forest”.
In the Darkness' Plait (from the "Waiting Paths" EP)
International relevance: ***
Spilld Mjölk is a curiousity that is completely unknown to most but in high demand among collectors. Privately released in 1975 on the band's own label, it is indeed amateurish but in a good sense. Their acoustic blend of psychedelia and folk-tinged music is oddly attracting, and might appeal to fans of UK folk rockers Stone Angel and Danish avant folkies Furekaaben. Lyrics are in Swedish and have a slight left wing touch. However, it isn't necessary to grasp the lyrics to enjoy the album as the strange mood of the music is the most striking thing about ”Svart mjölk”. The underground sound has a spooky vibe that gets to you on a deeper level.
The band members were pupils of Kalix Folkhögskola where the album was primitively recorded during a week in May 1975, but was founded in Luleå, a city in the Northern part of Sweden, by multi-instrumentalists Tommy Skotte and Erik Ahlstrand. Actually, almost all of the seven members play several instruments, such as flute, violin, cello, sitar and saxophone apart from the obvious guitars and percussion. None of them is a flashy player however; their strength is the collective sound fuelled by twisted improvisations and a dronelike flow, particularly prominent in the sitar driven track ”Till döden skiljer oss åt” (which, by the way, is not a cover of ”Norweigan Wood” as has been claimed). But ”Svart mjölk” is a state of mind perfectly illustrated by the evocative album cover, as much as a collection of distinct songs. Therefore, it's hard to pick any particular song as a favourite; the album works best as a whole. Once you get into it, it stays with you.
On the strength of the otherwordly mood and the fact that it was privately released in an assumingly tiny edition (distributed by Ahlstrand himself), ”Svart mjölk” has become a much sought after item. If you ever come across a copy of it, expect it to dig deep holes in your wallet. To the best of my knowledge, it hasn't been reissued on CD.
Violinist and singer Lars Frykholm was also a member of the huge Luleå based rock band Anton Swedbergs Swängjäng (all in all they had 37 members!). Tommy Skotte later became the main man of Skottes Musikorkester who released two 45's in the late 70's. Spilld Mjölk however is their most original effort, and although a spiritual kinship with a few other international bands, ”Spilld mjölk” is very much an entity of its own. Anyone into 70's fringe folk should consider it a must-have.
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