As is my usual way of doing things I listened to this wide and sprawling double album through before reading anything about it. My first reaction was simply: ‘wow’. This felt to me like the sort of record that was going to get played a lot (I immediately pre-ordered a copy) over a long period of time. What’s more I very much felt like it was going to be one of those albums that was going to grow and mature in my head as time progressed. It was with some surprise, then, that on reading the press release on this album I found that these were tracks that had been recorded over a ten year period covering a number of different band line-ups. Unbelievably some tracks here never really made it onto the band’s previous albums.
What this album is actually doing, it seems to me, is drawing a line under what has gone before by bringing together a series of tracks that both complement each other and reflect Flowers Must Die’s development to date. It is also the last release on band member Rikard Daun’s label ‘rev/vega records’… so there is a real sense of moving on here. As such I would not recommend that anyone judge this album against the group’s previous release ‘Kompost‘, which was one of my favourites of last year, not because it is inferior… rather that it is coming from a different place and time.
The press release for this album describes it as Flowers Must Die’s ‘folk album’, and that is a very fair comment. But when we are talking folk here we are talking about the Pårson Sound/ International Harvester/ Träd Gräs och Stenar sort of folk which I always feel is imbued with the very essence of Swedish culture… it somehow appears to have been formed out of that country’s very soil. Indeed the title ‘Där Blommor Dör’ (‘Where Flowers Die’) somehow reflects this in very earthy manner. Not only, then, is this an opportunity for the band to take stock and move on, but also helps us to do the same with the imminent release of the International Harvester box set, taking it’s place alongside previous retrospectives from the other two bands in this important timeline (Pårson Sound and Träd Gräs och Stenar) thus providing an invaluable insight into the musical timeline that has so clearly influenced the Flowers Must Die collective throughout its career to date.
OK so let’s get into this, and what a way to kick off with ‘Gör Der Inte’ (‘Don’t Do It’) which is as stripped back as you like. If this is folk, and it many ways it is, then it is folk of the garage… one of the earliest jams played by the band. This is really earthy and urgent, but with many of the group’s later tropes already in evidence. It’s a great start to the album because it just hammers at you with the drums in particular driving things forward while the rest of the band can get on with some real out there improv… a simple track in many ways but one that shows that Flowers Must Die’s roots are deep.
After that absolute assault the relative pastoral calm of ‘Gömma’ (‘Hide’) comes as both a welcome relief and a good counterpoint. Here the Swedish tradition is open for all to hear with that really unique blend of that sound of the land within a much more complex and, in many ways, sinister setting. You always get a sense that something less than edifying is lying below the bucolic idyll with the vocal seemingly acting as a siren call towards something darker than it initially appears. What particularly attracts me to this track, and style of music more generally, is how the disparate elements here are just about kept together… the ties that bind them just enough to remain coherent yet in danger of falling apart at any moment.
There next follows two more recent tracks that feature Karl Bergstedt on flute, both of which are stunning. First up is ‘Oroa Dig Inte’ (‘Don’t Worry’) which blends flute with vocals to such a laid back soporific effect, and yet there is still a sense of something else there again… perhaps it’s melancholy, a sense of looking back with more than a tinge of regret. Once again there is a unmistakably Swedish element to this track, which also reminded me of those other students of this scene, Hills… one of the highlights of the album for me. This is followed up with ‘Oro’ which is different again, much more intense and dark… there’s a sense here for me of having to work my way through the music… nothing here is given to you, you really have to work for it. ‘Oro’ conjures up being in a dense thicket of thorns and having to find your way through. There’s relatively little movement here and you can feel the stasis but, by the end, you begin to feel that there may just be a way out…
We’re deep in the album now, and there’s no guessing where the influence for ‘Träd, Gräs & Hö’ (‘Trees, Grass and Hay’) comes from. My first impression of this is one of fragility. Elsewhere on this album you get the feeling that, at times, Flowers Must Die are playing with total freedom… if not absolute abandon. Here though there seems to be a real precision. It is apparently based on a tradition song ‘Sally Free and Easy’, and was recorded in the Swedish countryside. Gradually, however, this comes through as the band loosen up a bit and the agrarian setting is more fully reflected, a process which I really appreciate because both ends of the number have their place.
Then comes the title track, an eighteen minute jam (an outtake of which appeared on ‘Kompost’). This was recorded back in 2009 and really needed to see the light of day before the band move on. Opening with a single dominant drone around with fragmented satellites of sounds rotate we gradually feel as if the band are coagulating into something more substantial. There are a number of false starts here which invite and opportunity for reflection, an underlying darkness providing a sense of trepidation as we are taken through dusk into what feels like a bleak nether world… all this happening at a slow yet steady pace. It is one of those numbers that hits the ten minute mark before you even realise it, so drawn in are you to its otherworldly charms. Eventually the music gets more and more churned, and the listener more and more twisted with anticipation of something happening… it’s almost like a aural horror story… you know something’s coming but you don’t quite know what it’s going to be… but then the pay-off never comes as it leaves you down there which no obvious sense of escape… left in a cave of contemplation… left to make your own way out.
‘Dööm’, another more recent track, is perhaps the one most obviously close to the material on ‘Kompost’ The jazz influenced opening, with Unni Zimmerdahl on trumpet, provides something of a salve to ‘Där Blommor Dör’… despite the fact that there’s probably six years between them. Although there’s still something dark and foreboding about this, the combination of the trumpet and vocal act as something of a relaxant after the challenging discomfort of the previous number. There’s also something welcoming about the song structure here with its repetitiveness striking a tone of the familiar somehow just hitting the right notes.
The final track of the (vinyl) album, ‘Ejefjallajökull’, is something of a regular in the band’s live sets; and has previously appeared on tape releases ‘På Månen’ and ‘Greatest Hits (Live)’. This is an altogether more open and lively number that underlines the eclectic nature of Flowers Must Die’s music. Here we see the bringing together of complex and disparate elements hang together really well, giving the music more drive and momentum than other tracks on the album. There’s a real middle eastern feel to the music, especially as it speeds up towards the end; and a greater use of electronics give it something of an otherworldly feel too… a suitably ‘out there’ way to round off an eclectic yet weirdly coherent set of songs.
For those listening to the digital version of the album ‘Syntsylt’ is a bonus track which is a long-ish atmospheric piece that is well-worth having. More spacey than most of the other works here, it shows another side of Flowers Must Die that is definitely part of their DNA… reflective and expansive… not a combination that is always well combined.
With ‘Där Blommor Dör’ Flowers Must Die takes us on a, non-chronological, journey through their ten year development. In doing so they alight on a number of hidden gems from their past as well as some new and promising tracks from their near present. In doing this they have put together something that is by no means as disparate as you might expect from the original concept. In fact quite the opposite, this is a set that feels coherent and, above all consistent. There are no fillers here, and where the music does take you far out psychologically, there is something else to bring you back. As such this is not always an easy listen, but it is always ultimately rewarding… after all waiting many years to hear these the last thing on our minds should be instant gratification.
‘Där Blommor Dör’ is available on vinyl and download here.