Thursday 18 January 2018

Swedes face bumpy journey down the road less travelled

Ed Power

Ed Power

When Swedish bands break big abroad, it's usually on account of their eye-popping eccentricity. For all their outward distinctiveness, taste-maker crushes such as The Hives, Jose Gonzalez, The Knife and Jens Lekman share one crucial trait: a determination to take the road less travelled.

In an industry where American and British acts increasingly seem to invest greater thought in their haircuts than in their music, Sweden gives us something we should crave: fresh ideas and an appealing lack of cynicism.

Jonna Lee, who opens the first night of the Totally Swedish festival in Dublin, has yet to emulate her compatriots' success. She may have scored several moderate hits at home, where her album '10 Pieces, 10 Bruises' took up brief residence in the lower reaches of the charts.

But elsewhere, her quietly anthemic balladry has fallen on arid ground -- a reflection, you suspect, of its tendency towards the insipid and the obvious. Lee is married to the piano player from Travis, the original heartfelt rockers, and you can hear the band's influence all over her sound.

Still, your heart goes out to a musician asked to perform to a half-empty room in the Button Factory.

There's a more respectable turnout for Weeping Willows who, despite being billed as Sweden's answer to Depeche Mode, are, it transpires, closer to a Nordic Bell X1. Frontman Magnus Carlson has a tingle-inducing croon, a velvety adjunct to the quintet's gently melancholic songbook. But, as a first-timer, their music feels too subtle to whole-heartedly embrace.

Sweden excels at producing singular talent. But, as this gig confirms, it can churn out its share of boilerplate also.

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