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Formed in the late 1990s in a Swedish fishing village called Grebbestad, this now-Gothenburg-based quintet’s art-rock has morphed from Wire-esque and noisy on 2008’s Story Vs. Plot (their third LP, but first “official” one) to quiet and contemplative on 2012’s The Names. But the group’s sprightly, jangly November 2014-released single “Next Time West Coast” (check out its black-and-white video, inspired by French director Jean Luc-Godard’s 1960 film Breathless) and its equally catchy digital “B-side” “The Night Before it Happened” hinted that this latest album might veer into an upbeat pop direction. So at first I was mildly disappointed to find that none of the other eight songs on the album came close to replicating their cheery, tuneful allure. I soon realized that my initial consternation was unfounded; it only took a few spins for each of the leisurely compositions to worm its way into my head like a famished tick. And before long, they were all competing for airtime with the two more immediate singles!
Perhaps inspired by the “more democratic” writing approach employed for the album, the band sounds more sharpened and the arrangements more intricate than on The Names. Prodded by the methodical, circular rhythms of bassist Peter Johannesson and drummer Victor Hillström, Abazovic’s and Daniel Åhs’s guitars coquettishly play off each other, while Nilla Berko’s emotive, enveloping cello weaves its way around each instrument like a spider spinning a web. In fact, on the LP’s three instrumentals – the melancholy “10/10,” moody “They…,” and meditative “Partly Clouded in Early June” – Berko’s bedazzling bowing often steals the show.
It’s a shame that Berko, whose harmonies near the end of “Next Time West Coast” and lead vocal on the title track are so beguiling (bringing back memories of her tantalizing trilling on The Names’s succulent pre-LP single “Doran & Edith”), sings on only one other song, “07:12,” and that’s just for its last 20 seconds! But guitarist and co-founder Davor Abazovic is no slouch at the mic, and his deep, deliberate brogue is just as intoxicating (Johannesson also provides a Lou Reed-ish lead on one song, “Lately”). On the softly skipping “In/On Time” and the tenderly thumping “07:12,” Abazovic delivers his brooding lyrics in a lullaby-soft lilt that is passionate and pacifying. And on the foreboding “First & Final, Slowly,” he unravels a stealthy tale about (what sounds like) two lovers on the lam, told as if he was narrating an absorbing film noir. (Indeed, embarking on last-minute, late-night, or life-changing journeys seems to be a recurring lyrical theme throughout.) Give it some time to sink in, and you’ll find The Night to be similarly absorbing. (harboursea.com, brine.bandcamp.com)
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