Wednesday, October 4, 2017

KEBNEKAISE - II (Silence, 1973)

International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals, instrumental

Ranked #1 on the blog's Top 25 list

Some albums are so HUGE it's nearly impossible to write about them. They may cause a mental block, or put you in a hyperbolic loop when you try to explain their greatness.

Favourite albums sometimes change over time. Others in turn remain in a firm position year after year, decade after decade, unless they become even greater favourites as time goes by, as if they have some kind of inherent magic calibrated to respond to any change in you. You live with those albums, and they live along with you.

Kebnekaise's ”II” is one of those, HUGE, with a lingering imperative to keep me under its never fading spell, a power to forever overwhelm me, and an otherworldly, graceful lyricism always to bring tears to my eyes.

When I grew up in the 70's, radio was a big part of my life. The radio was always on and back in the day, you could hear a lot of Swedish alternative music played on the radio. The progg movement often poked fun at Swedish Radio, blaming them for taking sides with the multi-national (i.e. American) capitalist system. Now, true that a child's conception of the world, eventually turning into cherished (and sometimes not so cherished) memories doesn't necessarily tell the whole truth. The child's mind has its own perception, fashioned by the lack of experience.

When the progg movement was in full bloom, I was still a child, but a child exceptionally receptive and responsive to music and the experience of music was unfettered by preconceptions and expectations. In that sense, my younger self was no different to my older – and current – self. I do remember a lot of crap being played daily in the 70's, mindless bubblegum pop, old Swedish mawkish and popular standards, quite a lot of sheer nonsense. But I also remember hearing Samla Mammas Manna, Mikael Ramel, Ragnar Borgedahl, Kjell Höglund and – Kebnekaise. Often enough, I had no idea what the artists' names were, but I distinctly remember particular songs. It wasn't until years later, when I had become a ferociously record buying grown up music junkie, that I realized that ”Uvertyr till snäll häst” (used as a theme song for radio show Ungdomsradion – ”the youth's radio”) was a track from Samla Mammas Manna's debut album, and that the marvellous ”Pengar” was a song by Mikael Ramel found on his majestic ”Till dej” album, and that ”Barkbrödlåten” that I loved so much as a child was by Kebnekaise. And that their version of ”Horgalåten” was available on the same album as ”Barkbrödlåten”, their second effort, aptly titled ”II”.

There was something about the traditional melodies that Kebnekaise used to develop a folk rock format of their own that spoke to me on a fundamental level. Especially those moving in such tantalizing ways up and down the minor scales. Those tunes seemed to know something about me that I didn't know yet myself (and probably still don't). They touched me, like those late nights touched me, with me in the back seat of the family car, returning home from a trip somewhere, looking at the trees of the forest unpenetrable by the darkness, even darker than the night itself rushing by the windows of the car. It felt like home, in an existential sense. I used to make up stories in my head as we speeded through the night lit up by the headlights only. ”Horgalåten”, in Kebnekaise's majestic to the point of intimidating rendition, could have been the soundtrack to these stories.

We used to sing ”Horgalåten” when I was in first grade, or was it second grade, or third? Best known as an instrumental tune, there are lyrics written to it, telling the story of the Devil playing his fiddle until the dancers fell down dead from exhaustion after dancing for days and nights. Singing it was to me like uttering a magic formula that connected my innermost being with a folk history phrased as folklore. I didn't know much about folklore at that early age, but I knew all I needed to know. I understood.

”Horgalåten” still affects me in a way that few other tunes or songs affect me, and needless to say, that track is what I consider the high point of ”Kebnekaise II”.

There's no way I can remove ”II” from my personal context, and I can't perceive it in any objective way. Well of course I can share discographical and biographical facts, but they are just that, facts. I could state the obvious and mention it was the first album where Kebnekaise ventured in to the rich heritage of traditional Swedish folk music after the curious but interesting debut album ”Resa mot okänt mål” which began life as guitarist par execellence Kenny Håkansson's solo album. I could tell you that ”Rättvikarnas gånglåt” features vocals from famed singer/songwriter and progg chanteuse Turid but that the album's mainly instrumental and founded on the free-spirited but incredibly focused interplay between the large number of players – nine in total not counting guest performer Turid, and that all of them – drummer Pelle Ekman, fiddler Mats Glenngård, bass player formerly member of pop band Tages Göran Lagberg, et al – are excellent musicians in their own right. I could also tell you of the origins of the band, the pre-history including heavy psych outfit Mecki Mark Men. But let's be honest: None of that is really relevant to the experience of the album as an entity. It's like the chemistry classes in school, who cared about what caused the chemical reactions leading up to a loud BANG! when the BANG! itself was the real thrill? Not I. And ”II” goes BANG! each time I play it. Each and every single time, with such a magnitude that it would be a bizarre act of self-denial not proclaiming it the best progg album ever made.

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