Release Date: Sep 14, 2010
Record label: Mexican Summer
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia, International, Psychedelic/Garage
It’s not even 30 seconds into the new record from Sweden’s Dungen when a flute melody pipes in—for some, this could be a deal-breaker, for the rest, it’s a welcoming return to greatness. Over the course of over half a dozen albums in the past decade, the band has created its own sub-sect of psychedelic rock music. Fusing the fuzzy, melodic, and rhythm-driven sounds of early progressive rock records (before the overt noodling) with a harmony-rich sound akin to a band like Teenage Fanclub, Dungen’s sound is equal parts pastoral and wildly raucous.
Dungen aren’t exactly mellowing in their old age, but Skit I Allt -- which roughly translates to “fuck it all” -- finds the band relying less and less on the fuzzy psych-rock fireworks that filled earlier albums. Instead, the guys dream up a sophisticated, widescreen version of psychedelia, with folk and offbeat jazz playing as big a role as guitar heroics. The result is part retro, part avant-garde, and part polyrhythmic elevator music, which is to say it sounds wholly Dungen.
Fame, is a funny old game. Especially today, you never know exactly when someone is likely to pick you up, run with you and then cruelly drop you where you were left. As a result, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Swedish outfit Dungen. There they were, peddling their laconic, proggy, guitar solo-laden take on pyschedelia, when Pitchfork picked up their 2004 album Ta Det Lugnt and hurled it downfield like Tom Brady was doing all season long.
Picture yourself waking up late on a Sunday morning. Your apartment is cramped, but your bedroom is sunny, especially today. The bustling cymbal work of "Vara Snabb" accompanies your fluttering eyes as you wipe the crust away. As Louis CK would say, you're slowly rebooting the computer. The calm ….
Up until now, Dungen has largely been known as the baby of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Gustav Ejstes, despite the fact that the band has been performing and recording together as a unit for years. In fact, the last two albums, 2008’s 4 and 2006’s Tio Bitar, even went so far as to declare guitarist Reine Fiske, bassist Matthias Gustavsson, and drummer Johan Holmegard as “contributory musicians” in rather chilly fashion. On Dungen’s fifth album, however, all that appears to have changed, as it makes a point of giving all four musicians equal billing on the back of the album cover and features a photo collage of the band inside, practically declaring to all that, yes, we can officially call Dungen a proper band now.
In past years, there have been moments when it seemed like Swedish quartet [a]Dungen[/a] might be elevated to genuine mainstream – OK, indie-mainstream – popularity. This despite the fact that seventh album [b]‘Skit I Allt’[/b], like their others, is sung entirely in Swedish. They’re clearly not aiming for a worldwide banker, but the seam they mine is creatively profitable and floridly engineered.
What is this, Herbie Mann? Zamfir? There’s an awful lot of flute. Back on their breakout, Ta Det Lugnt, Dungen made like Jethro Tull 2.0, mythical and joyfully bombastic. But that was then (six years ago!) and this is now, and they’ve signed to Mexican Summer for their new record, which right off the bat struck me as an odd mismatch. Forgive my nightmarish precognitions of a Dungen record awash in shambolic jams, idiot-savant moaning, and tape decay.
For most of its history, Dungen was the playground of Gustav Ejstes, who for the most part wrote all the songs and played everything on the recordings, then got the rest of the band together to play it all live. 2008's 4, which was actually their fifth album, marked the first time the quartet really played as a band in the studio, and Ejstes settled in as the pianist/vocalist/flautist. That approach continues here, and it seems to have led them in a more pastoral direction that has more in common with Songs From the Wood-era Jethro Tull and the folkier, jazzier end of 1970s European prog than the heavy psych they referenced on earlier records.
Both retro- and avant-rock fans will have a feast here. Martin Aston 2010 For anyone not Swedish or having the correct phrase book handy, Skit I Allt translates as “F*** It All”. But as frontman Gustav Ejstes explains, it’s less a guide to Swedish swearing than a show of affirmative action, as in: “F*** it, do as you want, time is passing and it’s changing, forget fears and hang-ups, we are small and everything is pretty insignificant on the whole.