Music Reviews: Horses power Swedish ascension
New albums from I break Horses, The New Mendicants, September Girls
I Break Horses
Chiaroscuro (Bella Union) ****
This year marks the 40th anniversary of ABBA's Waterloo -- the Eurovision winner that put them on the road to global stardom.
Back then, the idea of a Swedish outfit mixing it with the big boys from Britain and America was seen as a quirky anomaly, but in recent decades the Scandinavian country has become one of the world's great centres of pop.
The musician and producer Bjorn Yttling (of Peter, Bjorn and John fame) once told me that his country's disproportionate impact on the music landscape could be linked to the fact that it is obligatory to study music in primary school and to think creatively from an early age while the preponderance of melancholic songs was down to the way Swedes think of the world.
There's a wonderfully skewed pop sensibility and a heavy dose of melancholy on the latest album from these Swedes -- Stockholm duo Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck, who record as I Break Horses.
Lindén's vocals are infused with sadness as she contemplates painful affairs of the heart and the crushing disappointments that life frequently throws up, yet much of this overriding sentiment is leavened by the fact that it is wrapped in a glittering sonic package that fuses synthesised and organic instrumentation in a highly compelling manner. Chiaroscuro -- an Italian word that refers to the contrast between light and dark -- is a dramatic album with its intricately textured brand of electronica. The duo reach a high point on the pulsating Weigh True Words, while on Ascension, Lindén's vocals soar.
Key tracks: Ascension; Weigh True Words
New union fails to excite
The New Mendicants
Into the lime (One Little Indian) **
Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake and The Pernice Brothers' Joe Pernice are both masters of the three-minute pop song, craftsmen who compose pocket symphonies -- to employ Beach Boy Brian Wilson's memorable term.
The New Mendicants provides the marriage of such formidable talents. Yet, as is so often the case with such unions, the result doesn't come close to a sum of the parts.
Few of the songs are in the same league as their previous work and there is something terribly slight and forgettable about the bulk of the songs, especially Follow You Down and Sarasota.
The bittersweet A Very Sorry Christmas is more successful and there's real beauty on the wistful If You Only Knew Her, but all too often Blake and Pernice seem far too comfortable in their respective comfort zones.
On the whole, it's the songs on which Pernice takes lead vocals that stand out that bit more, but the overriding response from jangle pop fans is likely to be disappointment.
Key tracks; If You Only Knew Her
Retro girl band all at sea
Cursing the Sea (Fortuna Pop!) ***
Emerging from the short-lived Irish band Talulah Does The Hula (which itself was comprised of ex-members of The Chalets and Neosupervital), September Girls are an all-female outfit who do a fine line in harmony-driven, retro garage pop.
Principles Caoimhe Derwin and Paula Cullen are likely to be enthusiastic fans of Phil Spector and the Jesus and Mary Chain thanks to, respectively, the Wall of Sound-like production and the fuzzy, reverb-heavy guitars that permeates this debut album.
In places, the quintet are inspired: they've come up with a gloriously catchy and proudly lo-fi lead single in Heartbeats and it's a match of their best work in their previous bands. The song carries the standout line "Don't call me Baby/ I'm not yours" typical of the band's robust lyrical preoccupations throughout the album.
Elsewhere, the evocative title track and the vaguely psychedelic Talking make up for a batch of ho-hum songs that struggle to get out of the starting blocks.
Key tracks: Heartbeats; Talking