Friday, October 10, 2008

4 by dungen

When I think of Psychedelic rock, I usually remember this one time in Santa Barbara I saw a Pink Floyd cover band. There was this one older gentleman – maybe in his early fifties – going crazy dancing in the middle of the venue; which, being a small and very crowded bar, was not conducive to that activity at all. His head lolled from side to side, eyes closed as he spun around -- arms outstretched -- jerking erratically like some alien trying to figure out how perform the strange human activity of “dancing."

The rest of the bar patrons – mostly a younger set -- looked on with what seemed curiosity and concern; I think we all shared a communal “what the hey?” moment when a couple more veterans of the Age of Aquarius joined said man and joined in his crazed dance. I thought to myself, “self, what exactly are these old hippies doing? Perhaps re-enacting their summers of love spent listening to acid-soaked rock in mountain meadows?” Perhaps -- but to this day I have a sneaking suspicion that they were just high and drunk. Regardless, the music they were flailing around to was some awesome psychedelic-rock; and in all honesty, when I heard the latest Dungen album, “4,” I have to admit that I was ready to get up and do a little flailing around myself.

Apparently pronounced “DOONG-un,” the Swedish group's fourth studio album is a wonderfully listenable, at times epic-rock and other times emotional-jam, that seems to cut corners across genres with it’s folksy-psychedelic-rock-awesome sound. They waste no time in showing off their technical prowess – from the get-go you're surrounded by rock-solid playing and some wonderful production that balances the panoply of sounds in each track. Featuring pianos, guitars, subdued drums and plenty of incidental instruments filling in the back, the album is packed to the gills with talent and the kind of musical craftsmanship that seems to shout “Sounds easy, but only cause we're crazy good.” Sounds like? I could say anything from Stereo lab to The Doors depending on the track, they're really that varied. Just a warning: the song titles and lyrics are all in Swedish -- but please don't let that dissuade you if you're the “can't understand it, can't stand it” type; the album is largely instrumental – and don't forget, “awesome” is the universal language – and “4”'s awesome translates just fine.

The album opens with “Satt Att Se,” whose wandering, asymmetrical sound wastes no time in plunging you into an acid-soaked world where you ride a giant guitar over tie-dyed landscapes. Slightly reminiscent of Sigur Ros and maybe even a “Kid A” era Radiohead, it showcases the wonderful sound of Dungen – whose complex and well-developed pieces seems to effortlessly blend drippy folk, some wild jazz and the complexity of a cinematic score with psychedelic rock. They boast all the hallmarks of their genre – long solos, lots of keys and studio effects and that syrupy grit of a sound that lets you know this would be even better if you were stoned.

Track 4, “Samtidigt 1,” sports a hard, relentless wailing on guitar over insistent drums that is reminiscent of Hendrix in all it's gritty intensity. In stark comparison is track 9, “Samtidigt 2” which has an open, jazz-like quality as it flows from riff to riff, confident and insistent in it's wonderfully “thrown-together, totally-improvised-this-just-know” sound. Track 10, “Bandhagen,” featuring piano, flute and chimes, seems to beg for a chance to fulfill it’s true calling as a soundtrack for some indie movie starring some cute, doe-eyed girl in the big city. With it’s ebb and flow reminiscent of some easy-listening, this almost ambient piece is a great way to sign off the album and go in for another listen.

Dungen's “4” is profoundly enjoyable, blending a myriad of styles into one awesome album, it easily passed the “sit in the dark with my giant headphones” test with flying colors; and it also proved to be a lot of fun to listen to in the background whilst busying myself with other would-be-hipster activities. A rock-solid sound that's brought on strong and, in my humble opinion, best played LOUD. Definitely worth a listen, if for no other reason to impress your friends with a Swedish psychedelic rock group you've “been following for a while.” I recommend you check em out.

By the way, that dancing hippie in Santa Barbara? I did a little research and seem to have uncovered that his flailing was indeed a performance of what is commonly called the “hippie dance.” Usually confined to earth-day festivals or the parking lot outside the renaissance fair, my witnessing it somehow moved me to consider this old hippies plight – the last of a dying breed, he longs only to have his simple and drug-induced traditions live on, that the next generation learn from his ways. Worry not, sweet hipster of ages long past, I will bear your torch! Dear reader, you too can help this noble cause; just look for me at the next Dungen show – I'll be the one doing the crazy dance.

mp3: "Samtidigt 1" by Dungen
mp3: "Mina Damer Och Fasaner" by Dungen

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