Two reviews: The Dark Circus of Dungen

Dungen, September 15th, 2005, Bowery Ballroom, NYC
Ta Det Lugnt, Subliminal Records

From the very first beats of "Panda" on Dungen's CD, Ta Det Lugnt (in Swedish, means "Take it easy") I knew I was in for a treat. press4.jpgDungen are at their best when they take their odd, swelling guitar riffs and vocal melodies and abuse them beautifully with an unexpected raw drumbeat or little section of noise inserted into an otherwise straightforward rock song. But they are anything but straightforward and that's what keeps this album interesting. They aren't afraid to take little risks that don't seem so risky because they fall naturally into place in the song's delivery. The songwriting seems both planned and inspired, a nice balance between spacey jam parts and jangly, fun hooks. Although somewhat hard to categorize and describe, Dungen plays at hippie but definitely satisfies that rock urge - don't think Phish, think something else, a little bit harder-edged. On songs like "Du är för fin för mig," ("You are too pretty for me") "Festival," and "Bortglömd," ("Forgotten") lead singer Gustav Ejstes sings his heart out but remains just this side of too earnest, keeping it real - he has that dirtiness a rock singer can't call himself a rock singer without. The Swedish lyrics add to the sweet, dark psychedelia, and you can pretty much swear you know exactly what he means. This album is dirty and lovely and just messy enough to compel multiple, and more, multiplying listens, where you hear different layers every time.

In contrast, their live show at the Bowery Ballroom, as part of SPIN's showcase during the CMJ shows, was a bit disappointing. Some of their live versions of the songs didn't translate well onto the stage. The band seemed tired, but more than that, disjointed and not jelling together as they do on record. The drummer was the only one who seemed alive, getting into the music and playing from a real, unshowmanlike place - the others seemed a bit too stagey, and less compelled by their music as by putting on a good show. They performed some of their songs from the album like "Festival" and the title track pretty faithfully, and that was where they shone - within their own set format, they could play and deliver. But their jams went on too long and without much spark. For jams to work, they need to be so psychedelic, so wired through with their own energy that they float the audience out on some long, hanging, transcendental jag. These jams were flat and disconnected, no life. They seemed like a too-young, not quite mature band, not quite sure of who they are, whereas on CD, they flash through with uniqueness and fresh oomph that is carried through with confidence and ripeness. It was a bit like watching a fake Swedish Robert Plant on stage, which is fine, but the prancing and posing wasn't bucked up by brilliant playing.

I am still not giving up on them, though. Ta Det Lugnt is one of the freshest, most intriguing collections of weird jaunts, amusements of sound, and layered instrumentation that I've heard so I am willing to give Dungen the benefit of the doubt for this one live show. Everyone has an off night. So here's to seeing them again, with all hope that they will fulfill the promise of their CD.

-Arielle Guy


Ta Det Lugnt, Subliminal Sounds

The drums are what I should say is my favorite component of Dungen's latest album, Ta Det Lugnt. Well, they're quite good: sometimes jazzy, sometimes as epic and controlled as a marching band, and sometimes as uncompromising as a 60s garage rock band. At this juncture, Swedish psych rock has met its band of 2005. But it is not just the impressive drumming on this album that makes it so great, all of the instrumentation is so full and pretty. It all fits into place from the catchy "Panda" to the instrumentally dramatic "Jamna Plågor." In "Jamna Plågor" only drums and an electric guitar with a lot of reverb are present in this runaway song. However, the interlude to "Panda" is a drum solo - the harmonizing vocals make their appearance soon enough. Before you can even think about it, "Panda" has turned into a fantastic rock song. At the climax in the music, beaming guitars triumph and drums embrace the noise and, majestically, the song has come to an end. As a complete composition, Ta Det Lugnt is the intriguing album that you just cannot stop listening to. Even if you do not understand Swedish, it soon becomes your preferred soundtrack to daily life.

- Nancy Wolfe