Undertoner har bedt et af vores forbilleder på den anden side af Atlanten, det sprudlende idérige webzine Stylus Magazine, om at nærlytte de øverst placerede på vores 2005-liste over de bedste danske plader. Og Stylus’ anmelder synes rigtig godt om standarden i dansk musik netop nu. (09.02.06)I december måned stemte Undertoners anmeldere Mew, Diefenbach, Figurines og I Am Bones ind på de øverste pladser på listen over de bedste danske plader fra 2005. Alle fire plader havde fået pæne anmeldelser her hos Undertoner.
Og så var det, at vi vurderede, at det var på tide at lade helt andre ører bedømme, hvor gode vores danske favoritter egentlig var. Så vi tog kontakt til Stylus Magazine, som er en af vore forbilleder og, når vi er heldige, inspirationskilder – ikke mindst når det gælder at arbejde med idéer og temaer. Stylus var med på idéen, og her kommer dommen:
“So we’d like to know whether the Danish favorites really are good – or we’re just a bunch of patriots.”
The above is what Undertoner wrote to me when proposing this article, and I admit I was excited from the start. The only Danish record I had heard at the time was Mew’s Frengers, and although I liked it a lot it hadn’t really told me what Danish music (or even Danish rock) was like – no one album could do that.
There’s so much great music out there in the world that hearing the best of another country was sure to turn up some new gems. Admittedly my conception of the music of Denmark is now biased by the fact that the four albums I heard were Undertoner’s four best Danish records of 2005, but I’m happy to report that although Mew, Diefenbach, Figurines and I Am Bones may never be bestsellers abroad, they easily stand up to their American and English counterparts.
Mews And the Glass Handed Kites was the first of the four I investigated, and the one I have the most mixed feelings about. I can see why it was #1 at Undertoner – it’s clearly got the kind of ambition and reach, the desire to make an album that succeeds best as one extended statement, that when successful seems so impressive.
And it is; Mew have succeeded in their ambition to make it “one long song” as their bassist says on their website. But it’s precisely that quality that, while impressive, I could do with a little less of.
What I like so much about Frengers, aside from the general charm of Mew’s “space pop” sound (and I have always a fondness for the kind of keyboard and guitar sounds the band uses) is the way they have pop songs lurking underneath the waves of sound they use, sort of a bubblegum (in the good sense!) rejoinder to a band like My Bloody Valentine.
And while those delights are still present on the new album there’s nothing here quite as strong as Snow Brigade or 156 or even Comforting Sounds (Louise Louisa comes close to the latter, but not quite). And the Glass Handed Kites is a record that requires more intensity of focus than Frengers, at least initially; while I miss the immediacy of the latter there’s no denying that the band’s reach is only barely exceeded by their ambition, and I look forward to seeing what they do next. There are all sorts of wonderful moments, the most surprising to North American ears being J. Mascis’ sudden appearance on Why Are You Looking Grave?
Frengers had an odd reception on this side of the ocean; remarkably well-reviewed, it never found more than a small following. I get the impression this is due to both the band’s sweetness of melody (whereas bands like this are often expected to be rougher or sadder) and Jonas Bjerre’s voice – I find him endearing, but I’m sure some listeners thought he sounded overly cute or twee. Neither of those things have really changed, but And The Glass Handed Kites is definitely a better album (the converse of the lack of extreme highs is a lack of weak spots) and any North Americans willing to give it a fair shot are likely to be charmed.
Although it placed fourth, I’m willing to bet I Am Bones’ Wrong Numbers Are Never Busy would get a slightly warmer reception.
The opening few tracks reminded me a little of a much more subdued/conventional Liars circa their first album, and the sparseness and roughness of their sound is pretty common in North American indie rock right now.
One thing I was impressed with on all four albums is that all seemed to be more willing to change up their sound a little – any albums that sound like The Beat Is Satan or Bellyache wouldn’t tend to include something as weirdly funky as Cut Elly or as sunny as Built on Sand, let alone throw in a great but totally different song like Honeytrap.
I’m a big fan of shorter albums, and like most good examples I Am Bones feels trimmed of all excess and filler. I wasn’t surprised to find out I Am Bones started out as one guy’s bedroom project, it has that sort of intimate feel.
On songs like Building Hospitals and Talk to the Hand Johannes Gammelby seems to be writing in a more satirical way than the other albums I listened to for this article, and even to someone who doesn’t know much about Denmark it works well. If this was recorded by an American (and thus distributed over there), I’d imagine it would do well – it’s got a nice combination of the sour and the sweet, and it’s not quite like anything else over here.
Figurines’ Skeleton, though, does sound a bit like some North American acts. That’s not a bad thing, but it was a bit disconcerting on first listen to discover that Denmark has it’s own version of Modest Mouse. Well, not really, but Christian Hjelm’s voice sounds an awful lot like a less annoying Isaac Brock.
Which wouldn’t be a bad way for me to describe Figurines to North Americans; they’re similar, but much better, as they possess a zip and energy Modest Mouse sadly lack.
Skeleton is a very well crafted album, never succumbing to the bloat that Modest Mouse typically have, and there are some incredible songs; The Wonder, Ambush, Rivalry, Release Me on the Floor. Figurines have the right balance between swifter, shorter songs and more reflective tracks, and once again I think something of this quality would do fine if heard by listeners over here.
The kind of jerky, hectic energy that Figurines usually play with has a lot in common with certain kinds of American indie rock, and the band writes good enough songs to be in good company.
As much as I liked the other three albums, though, Diefenbach’s Set & Drift is the easy winner for me. I would have thought that most North American listeners would take I Am Bones or Figurines as the pick of this bunch, but the news that The OC is apparently using Favourite Friend in an episode makes me hopeful I’m wrong.
Because that’s not even among the best songs of the album for me – Glorious, Streetlights, The Right One, Circular Motions – I have to be careful not to list the whole album.
It’s not just that Diefenbach occasionally remind me of my beloved Readymade (a sadly overlooked Canadian band), at least as far as having a similar dreamlike sound; Set & Drift is actually far more diverse than Readymade tend to be, with little stylistic offshoots like Bruising My Eyes and The Police.
It’s not surprising to me that their first album was instrumental – the music sounds gorgeous, but I’m glad they went with vocals this time, because they and the melodies are great. It’s hard for me to articulate why I like it so much (and I dearly wish I could read Danish so I could read Undertoner’s review of the album!), but I can tell you that this is the album that I’ll definitely be buying as soon as I can.
I’ve been trying to think and write about all four albums on two levels; what I think about them, and what I think my contemporaries on this side of the Atlantic would think of them. I doubt everyone would love Set & Drift quite as much as I do, but once again I can’t picture it getting a bad reception.
All four of these records are easily good enough to compete with the stuff we listen to, and I don’t think Danish listeners have to worry they’re being too easy on homegrown acts. Again I know I’m hearing the very best of what came out in 2005, but I’m still a little surprised at how much I liked everything.
I was actually hoping one or two of the albums would be bad so I could write something more interesting than just “all four are good”, but I’m perfectly happy to find no bad apples in the bunch.