Sunday, October 8, 2017

SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA – Samla Mammas Manna (Silence, 1971)

International relevance: ***
Instrumental, Swedish vocals

Ranked #14 on the blog's Top 25 list

There's something special about debut albums, sometimes showing artists in their fledgling phase while still trying to find their identity. At best they capture a certain spirit lost already at the second try, for better or for worse. Or that's how it used to be. Nowadays, record labels more often than not expect artists to be fully finished, marketable units already before the release of their first single (or iTunes file). There's not a huge difference between artists and genetically engineered crops anymore.

Their eponymous debut album would likely not be the first choice of the regular Samla Mammas Manna fan, but it's the one that remains my personal favourite. Recorded before percussionist Henrik ”Bebben” Öberg left the group and before guitarist Coste Apetrea joined them, the sound is very different to and more easy-going than that of second and third albums ”Måltid” and ”Klossa knapitatet”, more reliant on Lars Hollmer's keyboards, particularly his music box electric piano.

With less emphasis on intricacy, it relies more on mood and atmosphere. The well-known Samla playfulness is already evident (albeit in a not yet fully developed form), but the recordings have an almost basement-like ambience to them, making the album peculiarly ambiguous, charming yet oddly spooky. Although not similar in style, the feel of the album somehow reminds me of Czech underground band Plastic People Of The Universe. It's like peeking through the secret keyhole and what you see in there sets the album apart from more or less every other album there is.

”Samla Mammas Manna” is definitely a progressive album, but with less of the fireworks complexity typical to the later Apetrea line-up, I find it a more enduring listen.

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