OK deep breath, here we go. I’m really excited, and a little bit giddy, to be premiering the first track from the new album by Kungens Män, ‘Ljupt Djud’. Why is this? Well because this is the band who produced my favourite album of last year, Dag & Natt, which I described at the time thus:
With ‘Dag & Natt’ Kungens Män have created a cycle of improvisations that they claim can accompany us through the day and night. Whether they have or not remains to be seen since a few listens in most definitely not enough to judge whether this is the case. Nevertheless the signs are promising, and certainly from a purely musical point of view this is a set that would be remarkable were it recorded in the studio in the usual way. That these are spontaneous expressions of the bands collaborative creativity is a mark of their individual and collective ability to deliver something that I am sure will be challenging me to decipher its meaning for many listens to come while, at the very least, enjoying the music.
Actually I am pleased to be able to come back to this statement because I can say that all the things that I hoped for this album are true and, if you haven’t heard it yet, I urge you to follow the links at the bottom for this new album… and you find a way to listen to it, and even order it.
As with all new albums by bands I really like, I am always a little apprehensive. This is particularly the case with such as Kungens Män who are the sort of collective who don’t really stand still. What you got last time is not what you’ll get this time, and I sometimes worry that we might part company… not that they produce a bad set, but that it’s not my thing. Usually though, in exploring new areas, Kungens Män usually push me to appreciate new sonic vistas… that’s why I write this blog, and that’s why bands such as this feature so prominently on it… they take me with them.
This certainly seems to be the case here, something that I have on good authority since I managed to have an online chat with Mikael Touminen of the band about this new record and how it came about. I first asked about the name ‘Fuzz På Svenska”:
The title and the cover art of the album is a nod, or actually a homage, to the great Swedish pianist Jan Johansson. He made an album called “Jazz på svenska” (Jazz in Swedish) in 1964 with his fantastic interpretations of Swedish folk songs. Simply beautiful, melancholic music. One of my favourite albums ever.
So ‘Fuzz in Swedish’ is an ace title for an album, and I’m really going to need to check out Jan Johansson. So, I wondered, is this a jazz album or a fuzz album, or maybe both? Mikael again:
‘Fuzz på svenska’ was recorded in 2017, and most of the songs come from rehearsals around the tours we did that year. During this period the saxophone player Gustav Nygren gradually became more and more integrated in the band. This also affected the musical direction in different ways – to some ears it might sound more jazzy than before, but to me personally it is more than anything just a lot of fun to have a sparring partner in the ecstatic field of our spectrum.
Given the recent offerings from Kungens Män band members, including Mikael and Gustav, in the shape of Automatism and Fanatism (see here for my review of them both) this intrigued me more since these were very different albums which variously contained what was being suggested here with Automatism perhaps veering more towards the jazz, and Fanatism more towards the fuzz. So, I asked Mikael, how does this one sit:
We realise that this album makes quite uneasy listening. It’s probably our most diffuse album this far – introverted, fuzzy, elastic, with long stretches of nothingness, but still moving forward and breathing. And sometimes it explodes. It’s for the shady party in your head.
Well if that doesn’t whet the appetite I don’t know what will, because from experience I know that this is what make Kungens Män such an exciting prospect for me, because they are a band I can sit down with and let them challenge me and take me to some quite different and exciting places, and a ‘shady party’ sounds good to me. Finally, though, before cracking on with the album itself I checked in with Mikael about the process of getting the album recorded:
All the music is completely improvised with no overdubs. The only post treatment is the effects I used in the mixing, which I usually do pretty sparingly since the music is pretty effect drenched from the beginning. There is one song though, “Tung pedagog”, that has more of a dub mix. Talking about mixing, the work on this album reflects a special period in my life. Me and my family moved out from the city two years ago, so most of the mixing was done either out on the porch or on the train commuting to my day job… And right now we are moving back to the city (Stockholm).
So there you are, that’s what the album is about; time to have a listen to it to see how these ideas manifest themselves. So while this is once again a double album you don’t immediately get the feel that this is a ‘start to finish’ concept like ‘Dag & Natt’ was, and proved to be. This, it seems to me, is more about atmosphere and trying new things. There’s the familiar here but also many points on this album that if I walked into a room when it was playing I wouldn’t automatically say “oh that’s Kungens Män” and this for me is a good thing.
The album opens with ‘Tesen’ which sounds at first like a track that is finding its feet as the band look for a way in. It’s almost like warming up, and for me a great way of tuning in the mind. There are fragments of guitar and percussion that gradually start infiltrating the psyche like a sort of sonic hydration as a drone becomes more perceptible. Gradually you feel like the musicians are beginning to explore very gradually as the sax begins to appear, very much in the background at first. Then at just over six minutes in the sax really kicks in and its a moment of real luminosity as shards of light flood the music lighting up the meditative atmosphere as if moving from black and white to colour. Then as the drums slide in there’s that real sense of moving forward that Mikael talks about above. This indeed is a track that is slow and considered but has a real latent energy about it… taking you with it and somehow really caressing your mind as it goes… I stopped writing for the last six minutes because I was so much in the zone with it.
After that is the somewhat shorter (seven minutes) ‘Starta Gruff’, which immediately takes you off in a different direction. Gone are the mediative stretched out improvisations, and in is a much heavier and more immediate sound that really grabs you from the start. The guitar locks into a high tempo riff while the kraut drums are much more pounding than percussive. Already two tracks in and the idea of the concept album is definitely out of the window, because this is a total freakout that is about breaking rules not creating them… this is the sound of a band letting themselves off the leash again with the sax really adding to the mix and giving an extra angle to an already interesting shape.
Such is the diversity on show I’ve no idea what to expect next from the title track, except… well… maybe from the title. Actually ‘Fuzz På Svenska’ starts like a jazz track with a real groove from the outset, but with a kind of drone riff going on in the background. This is light and dark at once, together slowly moving up though the gears… perhaps it marks a gradual move from ‘jazz’ to ‘fuzz’… what it feels like is all the emotions of life moving together as one. There’s all sorts here, all manner of feelings bound up in the central repetitive beat that drives the track forward acting as the vital components the music which underlie and allow the more shaded (as opposed to shady here) and nuanced parts to operate. Gradually over the nearly fifteen minutes these variations move in and out… but that central bit stays, takes a bow for a while, and then is once again subsumed… now for the last few minutes the fuzz has really taken hold. Man I need to listen to this one a few more times to check whether I’ve got it… but it’s amazing to take up that challenge laid down by the band.
Still letting the melodies sink in (and I never really got round to writing about them) there’s a somewhat similar backing track to ‘Centrala Mellanplanet’ which allows for some continuity as my head adjusts to yet another type of track. This one develops into something of a similar pace but much more fragmented. There is less here to hold onto from bar to bar, it feels far more disruptive, especially through the guitar which feels like spontaneous eruptions of sound that come and go at random… this is quite an unsettling track as you get into it.
After this comes the shortest track of the set ‘Tung Pedagog’ which, as Mikael mentions above, has a dub feel to it. This is quite different again and feels really out there compared with a lot of the Kungens Män oeuvre. This is certainly a dense piece which is quite hard to penetrate at first. With repeat listens, however, you begin to pick up the pace to some extent although even then it feels like a track where confusion reigns; not so much in the playing but in the way that it is presented. It is like there is a veil over the track that you can’t quite lift up. I guess ‘mysterious’ is the word to describe it, and perhaps the answer comes with with similarly named ‘Tung Dialog’, which is much longer and starts in a much more overtly mysterious manner. The last three words of the previous sentence shouldn’t go together, but in describing the start of this track they do. There is something paradoxical about the way that it begins in contrast to ‘Tung Pedagog’, but the when the heavy guitar kicks in it’s like that mystery is either solved or becomes entirely superfluous. From there the band, and specifically the guitar, just flies. There is something really spontaneous (well that’s nothing unusual here) about the this, but also something open and celebratory about the way the music soars here. Gone is the introversion that has marked the previous two tracks in particular. Then as it stretches out you have a real feeling of being in a moment… what sort of moment I’m not entirely sure at this point, but I’ve a feeling that repeated listens to this track will provide some answers as you follow the contours of the music more closely.
OK one track to go and it’s the longest of the set (and presumably the last side of the vinyl) at nearly twenty minutes long, and the one I’m premiering here, ‘Ljupt djud’ . At first this is perhaps the most recognisably ‘Kungens Män’ track on the album, although that idea is almost an anathema. By this I mean that it doesn’t demonstrably have any of the experimental flourishes that mark out the other very different numbers here… at first. The interaction of the band with the sax is key to how this moves forward. And, actually, as it progresses, it moves increasingly ‘off piste’ as chaos emerges from the order… this begins within the musicians’ comfort zone and feels like this is gradually being tested until around ten minutes in when, for me, some sort of breaking point is reached and that whole thing comes crashing into my brain and just completely takes off in it. It may be that I suddenly got it at that point but, wow, it’s hitting me now… wave after wave of sound each more intense than the last crashing on the shore of my psyche… This has become such an intense experience as the band continue to open up hitting what seems like high after high as that mixture of the repetitive and the free form move forward hand in hand… then comes what I assume is a phin guitar which really adds to the increasingly esoteric nature of the track. This is some build up now as the intensity deepens, this is a band transcending the groove and into some special realm beyond… just incredible… it’s like they tear a hole in space and time and drag you into some sort of new dimension. This is the first time in over five years of writing about music that I’ve had to duck out of a track to finish writing about it because following it took me to some totally ineffable places so, if you don’t mind, I’m going to write my conclusions and get back into it… see you on the other side!
Wow that was some way to finish what is an exceptional set of music. This is the sound of a band experimenting, of kicking out through more barriers and, on occasions, of finding new levels of intensity and experience. This is also a different approach from ‘Dag & Natt’ and, freed from the need to develop an overall concept this gives us more opportunities to explore new sonic topographies. As I said near the beginning, Kungens Män are a band/ collective that are constantly on the move and here their direction of travel is just fine by me. This is yet another double album that has more ideas and innovations on any of the tracks than many bands fit on a full album. What this means is that it is a lot to take in in one listen, or even multiple listens but if I go back to the quote from my previous review, the same applies here so I’m going to finish with the same sentence again because it holds for this album every bit as much as previously:
That these are spontaneous expressions of the band’s collaborative creativity is a mark of their individual and collective ability to deliver something that I am sure will be challenging me to decipher its meaning for many listens to come while, at the very least, enjoying the music.
Time will surely once again tell.
Spofity playlists here, including my ‘Swedish Psych’ list: