Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sweden: The New Brooklyn?

There has been a great deal written regarding the explosion of indie music from Sweden over the last five years, and understandably so; from The Knife to Peter Bjorn & John to, most recently, The Tallest Man on Earth, Swedish artists have increasingly become American critical darlings.  Indeed, to read much that has been written, you might be led to believe that the land of Carl Gustaf XVI just discovered the concept of sequencing pitched sounds during the 21st century.  Such a perspective sadly sells short the history of Swedish pop music, but also fails to recognize the fact that Swedish music trends have in fact mirrored our own for over 30 years.

The typical narrative of Swedish music goes thusly: "There was ABBA, they were quite popular with people like John McCain  but not anyone you'd hang out with, then there was nothing for decades, then they were on our TV shows."  The truth however, is much more complex: Swedish pop music has been omnipresent in our own musical landscape since the time of ABBA; indeed, it has been a reflection of the landscape.  When we have found our music scene blemished, therefore, we have chosen not to take notice of Sweden's

While their aesthetic significance is questionable at best, ABBA's historical significance cannot be denied.  They were more responsible than only other artist for the transition of glam-rock to disco in the mid-1970s.  It is understandable if after this transition, we all tried to pretend we didn't know if bands were from Sweden.  Nonetheless, they didn't leave us alone.  In the midst of the hair-metal craze of the mid-1980s, the Swedish band Europe made an indelible mark on our popular culture.  During the same time period, while Madonna and Wham! were popping up our radio waves, Swedish group Roxette was having an impact of its own.

It is understandable why we tried not to acknowledge Sweden during this period.  When our own music became a tad less cheesy, so did theirs, and we started paying attention again.  For example, in the mid-1990s, with an upwelling of literate female-driven pop occurring in America, Swedish darlings The Cardigans to rose to prominence; with the birth of the so-called "garage rock revivial" of the early 2000s, The Hives gained some measure of fame.  Since this time, and particularly in the last five years, we've continued to see Swedish music serve as model and inspiration for our own.  From the folk musing of Jose Gonzalez (reflected in those of Bon Iver), to the blissed-out electronic compositions of Air France (clear relatives of buzz-worthy Neon Indian), to the clever songs of Jens Lekman (the true heir to The Magnetic Fields), Swedish music continues to inform and be informed by our own.  Just because this phenomenon is à la mode, however, don't be lead to believe that it is a recent development.

Some Swedish favorites from recent weeks/months/years:

Jens Lekman - Your Arms Around Me

jj - Ecstasy

The Tallest Man on Earth - Kids on the Run


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