Here are a batch of recent European releases. It must be noted, however that all of the albums covered in this article are in their native languages. Music does, however, cut across that divide. The fact that most of us can’t understand a word actually helps us focus on the musicianship.
If I was clever enough, I would review the album in the language in which it is written, but anyone who knows me realises the ridiculousness of that comment. So here we are, reviews of European language releases covered by an Englishman who despite living in France can barely order a beer in his adopted country!
Aguson – Aguson
Sweden’s Aguson, who up until this point had been in various pop orientated bands, reinvented himself when he started to listen to the likes of Townes Van Zandt and John Prine.
He instantly connected with the ‘honest expression’ he heard within the music and whilst remaining loyal to some of his pop roots began to inject some country into his songwriting. The result is this album and even though the likes of me can get frustrated from not being able to understand the words, an essential part of this style of music remains a pleasantly impressive listen.
Aguson builds around acoustic styling and impressively catchy songwriting. This is most definitely the case with the opening track, “Fran Vinst Till Forlust”. I would like to know what it’s about, strangely it still has the power to draw you in. The country soaked “Tank Om Tvivlet Inte Fanns”, “Lagtryck Over Stan”, the lovely “Ingenting”, and “Vapenbroder” all show the direction he is heading.
Whatever the language, well written country styled, acoustic music remains soulful, relevant, moving, and highly rewarding. You can almost fill in the lyrics yourself. Have a listen to the excellent Aguson on his website.
Mathieu Boogaerts – I Love You
Released in November, 2008, I Love You, is the eighth album in the career of one of France’s most popular contemporary singers. The style is best described as a combination of dub, light grunge, funk, electronica, with a huge push towards the pop market.
Mathieu's voice is gentle, and smooth, with the tracks often being minimalistic in approach. Very European, very French. Tracks such as "Come To Me", and "All I Wanna Do" which despite their titles are mostly sung in French, and "Chaque Fois" seem to be good illustrations of where this album is at.
Visit Matthieu Boogaerts on his website.
Gosta Berlings Saga – Tid Ar Ljud
Firstly apologies, again I can’t get the dots above the ‘O’ as in Motorhead. This is an album from a Swedish four piece instrumental outfit. The astute among you will have already worked out that language is in fact no obstacle with this one. It is included here because of the album’s title which may put some of the less adventurous off.
Named after the novel and subsequent film this is another band from that hotbed of talent, Stockholm. I like where these guys are coming from.
Under the heading ‘influences’, on their Myspace page, they merely write ‘ancient wisdom’. Under ‘sounds like’, they add, ‘like the band your unmarried, childless uncle with that beard and weird smell likes’.
In truth they are doing themselves a modest injustice, as Tid Ar Ljud is extraordinarily good. This cannot be merely dumped in the prog-rock category as there are many elements, styles, influences, and strokes of intrigue going on here.
Having said that Tid Ar Ljud is a concept album. It is, I am told, an album that deals with interaction between the city and nature and some of the creatures that dwell within both. There are brief voice overs that, no doubt, add to that concept. However it is the craft of the musicianship that is left to shine.
For weird smelling oldies like me (even though I am married and certainly not childless) there are enticing splashes of King Crimson tucked away in here. This is a band that clearly love and respect the genre they are in.
As a result they have produced an quality album. Always well balanced, intriguing, and captivating. For a good indication of where Gosta Berlings Saga will take you have a listen to “Ljud Fran Stan” or the excellent “Helgamarktz”, both taken from the album, on their website.
Magnolia – Magnolia, Falska
Magnolia first came to my attention with the debut self titled album. The first track on the album, “Resa Utan Slut”, was exceptional. The band just went headlong into Cream territory and frankly I couldn’t give a damn what language it was in. It made me focus on the guitar work, in this case by Love Thulin, which was extraordinarily good.
Now the new album is out and I want to make sure that Magnolia don’t slip away from us Anglo/American speakers purely because of the difference in language.
They formed back in 1994 when Ronny Eriksson began to write his own music. He was heavily inspired by the ‘classic’ bands of the late sixties and early seventies, such as the aforementioned Cream, West, Bruce & Laing, November, Free, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, early blues Jethro Tull, and Cactus, amongst a score of others.
Anyone who doubts whether music can cut across the divide really needs to listen to the guitar on “Drom Dig Ivag”. It is, in anyone’s language, fantastically good. There are nods to Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton aplenty and convincing splashes of Hendrix.
This is an album of high energy progressive blues rock, straight off the vinyl of those far off days. The fact that Ronny is singing in Swedish merely adds a little mystique to the whole. Well worth a dip in the water. Visit Magnolia at their MySpace Page
Villebrad – Alla Ar Har Utom Jag
Guess where Villebrad come from? Yes, Sweden. I have a theory that it must be all those dark nights that leave people with no option but to become talented musicians. Formed in 2004 by Uppsala-based brothers Erik and Pahl Sundstrom.
Having worked with various bands they decided to throw any consideration towards trend out of the window and form Villebrad as a vehicle for their own developing style. The album is a blend of progressive rock circa, mid-seventies, art-rock, and New Wave of the eighties. Also in the mix are splashes of more contemporary sounds.
On the face of it, it’s an odd combination, yet one that is never predictable, and is borderline innovative. Eccentric, slightly crazed (in the nicest, creative sense), and yet inspired all the same. Therein lies the key to its appeal. It will intrigue, compel, surprise, and defy most of any preconceived musical logic.
In short, it sounds fresh as though a whole new genre has been discovered in the process. Have a listen to the title track on the MySpace page, or “Ingenting”, both from the album, and maybe you can see why it is hard to define.
By the way, they are singing in Swedish.
More Euro language releases to follow.