DUNGEN – Ta det lugnt (2004)

Review by: Kacper Kopacz
Album assigned by: Ed Luo

1. Panda 2. Gjort bort sig 3. Festival 4. Du e för fin för mig 5. Ta det lugnt 6. Det du tänker idag är du i morgon 7. Lejonet & Kulan 8. Bortglömd 9. Glömd konst kommer stundom ånyo till heders 10. Lipsill 11. Om du vore en vakthund 12. Tack ska ni ha 13. Sluta följa efter. 

Dungen means clutter, what else is there to say – they are a Swedish progressive-pop band. On “Ta det lugnt”, they sing in Swedish, and most amazingly this album has charted in America. This means that their melodic skill is quite outstanding. This album sounds like some ABBA + some Jethro Tull and proves that liking one of these bands should mean loving them both.

The problem I see here is that Dungen is not going to save Rock music, unlike Tom Petty who did*. Their pattern seems to be evident through the whole of “Ta det lungt” and results are noticeable – it seems “nobody” outside of Sweden cares for them nowadays, ten years after this record was released.

I can’t neglect the fact that they were interesting – ABBA meets psychedelia is intriguing, in the ground of progressive-rock. However to my ears this isn’t an even album. First, there is “Panda”, the song, which works really well as an opener. The vocal melody is catchy in an expressive ABBA-esque style and the song is accompanied incredibly well by an economic instrumental arrangement. Later, on the next two songs I hear some intriguing moods and overall great sound – yes, the recording rules all the way – but melodies seem to be more hidden and it’s not well, since I don’t understand the lyrics. The main feature, in which this album rules and sucks, is the ability to please a listener without making him committed.

Songs, “Du E för Fin för Mig” (You’re too good for me) and “Ta det lugnt” (Take it easy) contain a fusion of folk (Swedish folk, I guess) motives with progressive-rock guitar parts, that could appear on a Jethro Tull record. In the title song, there’s a presence of jazz-sax, and although I don’t find it extremely amusing, I must say it fits the song well. Just like Jethro Tull, Dungen doesn’t convince me to fantasize about them.

Next few songs are mostly instrumental, again quite proficient but not mind-blowing. I recommend listening to these after being aware of what their titles mean. On the song “Bortglomd” (Forgotten) Dungen came close to the noise-pollution.

The final track, “Sluta följa efter” (Stop following) has an interesting tension and melody, reminiscent of what was done by King Crimson on Red. Vocal isn’t alike ABBA anymore, this time we face some interesting noise-rock experimentation. 
All in all, this record is good. I don’t think it’s a must-have, but rather definitely a worthy listening experience. It should be also noted here that in 2005 “Ta det lugnt” was reissued with five more instrumental songs, which might be the best buy for someone fancying Dungen.

*Tom Petty saved Rock music not once, but thrice!
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EYELESS IN GAZA – Rust Red September (1983)

Review by: Ed Luo
Album assigned by: A.A

Now this is an album whose exact sound I don’t think I’ve heard before much, if at all. All of the songs overall are essentially moody, ethereal pieces that, although very melodic, very guitar-based and easy on the ear, are still kind of secondary to the atmosphere of it all. That said I’m not quite sure what to make of the vocalist, whose vocal style really reminds me of someone who I can’t recall at the moment. Out of all the songs I would go for “Pale and Pearl” as a highlight, but really I think the tracks work best as a cohesive whole. Would definitely recommend this to others just for the atmosphere, and need to give this another listen when I have more free time :p

CAEDMON – Caedmon (1978)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: Ed Luo

So much interesting music from Scotland, right? Caedmon’s is not an exception. This album (their only one until a recent comeback record) comes from 1978, but might as well be from 1972 or 1969.

There is a Christian background, a Christian impulse, let’s say, and if Christ gets you to write such great songs, well, count me in for Salvation! 

You have pretty much everything in here. Biting electric guitar, pulsating bass, both competing with several acoustic instruments. And the great female 
voice of Angela Naylor. She’s really an angel in the best Annie Haslam tradition. 

Take “Ten Maidens Fair” as an example. The leading female voice, that middle age chorus, that *hard* rock guitar, the sublime organ, the mandolin. Great interplay in fact. “Maker man”, more jazzy, almost Bossa Nova in certain bits, great percussion, tasty guitar, a drone feeling that sticks around.

Or “Death Of A Fox”, which is like full speed Folk, with horns and another great bassline, until the Violin is left alone to great effect, to be swept away by a sudden acoustic guitar and the Angel Voice of Angela (seriously I just realized her name is that adequate). These are four non-idle minutes, believe me.

“Sea Song” is Floydish to my ears, started by the male singer this time. Haunting specially when the electric guitar steps in and grows stronger, with a furious acoustic guitar trying to keep pace. 

“Aslan” has a great bass introduction, a chant somewhere, the electric guitar with the bass always upfront: frenzy. And then, the violin rushes into madness over the vocals…  But it’s the turn of the guitar and the voices end up singing for their lives. Those cellos!
                                                                                                                                       
“Beyond the Second Mile” is something I’m sure Led Zeppelin would have loved to include in their III album but heck that happened nearly 10 years before.

“Living in the sunshine” is another highlight, almost experimental for the record, quite jazzy too, goes off the beaten path while staying on the pretty sound of the whole set. A magnificent song.

On the second side (Kids, there used to be two sides in those LPs you know!) it gets a little tiring, maybe it’s just me or maybe the first side is so gorgeous that I don’t need anymore. Nothing offending, except perhaps “Give Me Jesus” which is, maybe just too explicit, a little dull indeed. But then again this is a Christian band, so that’s acceptable.

Nothing prevents this from being a beautiful experience. And it comes to show, that folk rock (or any genre, for the matter) doesn’t have to repeat formulas. Forever Changes from 1978? That’s surely going too far, but indeed they get a great mix of ingredients in this timeless album. 

A compelling listen for those who want to fly without wings or substances. Just plain old good music.

DÂM-FUNK – Invite the Light (2015)

Review by: Ed Luo
Album assigned by: Markus Pilskog

Retro 80’s funk/R&B – it’s pretty fun, but kinda cheesy for me and it’s looooooong, at least for my current semi-fatigued state. The only tracks I can recall at the moment is “The Hunt & Murder of Lucifer” for the fuzzy bassline and “Missin’ U” for the flutes in the background. But yeah, good album if you’re endeared to this sort of 80’s funk aesthetic.

Oh yeah, Q-Tip, Ariel Pink, and Snoop Dogg guest star on a few track, that’s pretty fun too.

THE POLYPHONIC SPREE – Together We’re Heavy (2004)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Album assigned by: Ed Luo

This is grand, epic and BIG. Together we’re heavy indeed, if by ‘heavy’ you mean producing symphonic-sounding universalist anthems. But let’s look at the band behind the album: The Polyphonic Spree is a group of about 20 constantly rotating musicians from Dallas led by a man called Tim DeLaughter (which actually rhymes with ‘daughter’ and not ‘laughter’, for your information), who is pretty much the only constant member. Tim’s idea is basically making catchy indie pop BUT with a major difference – contrary to the 00s musical fashion and giving absolutely zero fucks about being ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’, he drenches his songs in lush orchestral arrangements and gives them bombastic gospel-like choir treatment.

The results (at least on this album, which is their only record I’ve heard so far) are predictably GRAND. The messages of the album doubly so: Love thy neighbor! Peoples of the world unite in one sweeping motion! Be happy, today is the best day of your life! Let’s sing together for love and peace! Stand up, throw your hands in the air, sing your throat out and be free! “You gotta be strong, you gotta be two thousand places at once”, “and love will shine today”! These guys are practically making 1967 happen again, at least within the limits of this particular record. And with some good memorable melodies, nice harmonies and very professional singing, too! Think classic-era Electric Light Orchestra, which apparently was a major influence. Lush arrangements and ecstatic choirs suddenly make sense.

It goes without saying that your perception of this music highly depends on whether you can enjoy this sort of thing non-ironically or the cynicism of our times has gotten you for good. And no, don’t fall under the impression that the whole record is naively over-optimistic either – lyrically this album acknowledges the tough and dire affair that is life, and it does have its share of melancholic moments as well (One Man Show, to name one). The record also features a rock-opera-like mini-suite called When The Fool Becomes a King, which also adds to some slight diversity of mood. However, in the end the purpose of EVERY SINGLE song here is to make you happier and more capable of dealing with the harshness of life. This is a statement of optimism, a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ album, the musical equivalent of a helping hand lent to those in need of cheering up.

Which is the reason I’m actually refusing to rate this album objectively. It might not have the best songs or the best arrangements; maybe it isn’t even good by normal rock and pop standards. Not to mention that a lot of people will probably hate this record for being so at odds with the times, full of almost saccharine sunshine. BUT I happen to have really enjoyed this album, and I want to praise The Polyphonic Spree for their sheer audacity and boldness, for not being afraid of sincerely trying to make people love their lives a bit more. In 2004 this takes balls.  

TANGLED THOUGHTS OF LEAVING – Yield to Despair (2015)

Review by: Eden Hunter
Album assigned by: Ed Luo

From start to finish, listening to Yield to Despair feels like it’s balancing on a constantly mobile precipice between life and death. The instrumentation bounces between a two different moods: slightly groovy doom metal, and somber gothic jazz. Both seem like pretty awkward stylistic coincidences, but they both work remarkably well. These two fundamentals are also helped by chaotic noise squalls, martial drumming, Drudkh-esque tremolo trances, and a wide variety of other sonic tools.

Luckily, the album’s 5 lengthy compositions are robust enough that all these disparate features get a chance to breathe, and Yield to Despair isn’t just balancing on the precipice between life and death, it’s clinging to it. There’s a very slim window for ‘instrumental doomjazz’ to succeed as comprehensively as Yield to Despair does, but in taking that risk, Tangled Thoughts of Leaving have created an absolutely brilliant album. Every moment the precipice is getting thinner, but every moment clinging on we inch ever closer to transcendence.

9/10

MATERIAL – Memory Serves (1981)

Review by: Ed Luo
Album assigned by: Mark Maria Ahsmann

So this was a wonderfully weird, groovy album. Material is basically one of the many vehicles for the great jazz bassist Bill Laswell and some other jazzy jazz friends of his, Michael Beihorn on synths and occasional pleasant vocals and Fred Maher on drums and percussion. There’s also some guest musicians as well, most notably the late, greater than great guitar maniac Sonny Sharrock and the avant-out-the-ass guitarist/violinist Fred Frith. The music of Memory Serves can basically be called a very wigged-out take on jazz-funk. Playful, funky basslines and jazzy, funky drumming and guitar playing is juxtaposed with all sort of weirdo sound effects throughout, sometimes for weirdo, nigh-nightmarish effect (“Metal Test”, “Silent Land”), but mostly to make things goofy and engaging throughout (the occasional ass-kicking Sharrock guitar playing helps as well). Oh, and there’s a bonus track on recent editions of the album, a really, really goofy electro take on Morricone’s theme for For a Few Dollars More, probably to end the album on a lighter note after “Silent Land”.