Thursday, January 19, 2006

Reviews: Scandinavia Calling

Magnet, Tourniquet, Filter US Recordings/Atlantic

Hailing from the same rainy city as wistful troubadour Sondre Lerche, Magnet's Even Johansen trods similar stylistic ground. The Bergen-based singer/songwriter's second US full-length, after 2003's On Your Side (2000's Quiet and Still was issued under his full name), also brings to mind such romance-obsessed chaps as Rufus Wainwright, Badly Drawn Boy, and Aqualung. In other words, Tourniquet is pleasant stuff, although more than a little generic. Throughout, Johansen croons in a gently keening tenor about love and loss atop a pillowy bed of acoustic guitars and keyboards. It's all mid-tempo, untroubled, pristine. In other words, nice, tasteful--boring. By the time he adds a couple of "fucks" to the 10th track ("Jaws"), it's too little, too late. Granted, Johansen sounds like a few artists I quite like, especially the more lively Lerche, but he's just not as interesting.

Figurines, Skeleton, Morningside Records

The press release compares this Danish four-piece to Pavement, Built to Spill, the Strokes, and Neil Young. For the most part, I don't hear it--any of it--but Skeleton isn't a bad album. It isn't a great one either. Mostly, I was expecting something more exciting based on that description. What I hear instead is a muted cross between Wall of Voodoo and the Violent Femmes. In other words, there's something very 1980s about Figurines and it's more of a new wave than a post-punk '80s. The beats are bouncy, Christian Hjelm's voice is boyish, and there are plenty of "oh-ohs" and "la-las" to go around ("Remember" even features handclaps). If I were feeling nostalgic for the 1980s or didn't already own a number of CDs by Squeeze, Split Enz, etc., I might be able to work up more enthusiasm for this quartet, but alas: I'm not and I do.

David & the Citizens, Self-Titled EP, Friendly Fire Recordings

Sweden's David Fridlund and his four Citizens have that upbeat pop thing down to a science. As influences, Fridlund has claimed the Pixies and Neutral Milk Hotel, but I hear more Beatles, Beach Boys, and They Might be Giants. To the usual guitar-bass-drums triumvirate, the Swedish quintet adds keyboards, trumpet, and tambourine. Consisting of material released between 2000-2004 and aimed at the American market, this self-titled EP follows two full-lengths, For All Happy Endings (2002) and Until the Sadness is Gone (2003), along with a bevy of EPs and singles. It's earnest and jangly, which isn't my usual cuppa, but D&tC are too good at what they do for me to resist. Bonus points for Brendan Monroe's whimsical cover art (note that the bubbles have faces) and Fridlund's band logo, an outline of his cat Beppe.

Note: "Beppe EP" cover art from the official David & the Citizens website . (Some of the English translations are a little shaky, but that just adds to the charm.) Also, here's an interview with Fridlund about his 2005 solo debut, Amaterasu.

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