The Dark, Sweet Psychedelia of Sweden's Finest Export
I first heard The Soundtrack of Our Lives in a South Philly apartment, late at night, after a really good dinner.
I was lying there, on the floor, in the home of one of my best friends from San Francisco, and all of her familiar posters, wall hangings, and furniture from her Frisco apartment, were around me. I had just moved to New York and the hush and stillness of Philadelphia and Hope’s apartment was the closest I’d gotten to home in a long time. She put An Extended Revelation for the Psychic Weaklings of the Western Civilization, Welcome to the Infant Freebase, and Behind the Music on shuffle. We weren’t talking, almost sleeping, and this is what the music was like, a liminal state between being awake and sleeping, the way words and music aren’t words and music anymore but just music. It was magical, that whole night, listening to them, being there in the apartment, in the stillness.
As I walked around and rode the subways, trying to get used to New York, I listened to Behind the Music (Warner/Telegram Feb 2001) and it was one of the few things that made me happy. The guitar on the songs “Infra Riot,” “Sister Surround” and “Independent Luxury” was layered and full, swelling, and totally rocked. The vocals and lyrics on “Nevermore,” “Ten Years Ahead” and “In Your Veins” were beautiful and melodic, and again, the songs rocked. The music reminded me of all the bands I listened to and loved when I was growing up, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Blind Faith, Hawkwind, even Sabbath, all the classic bands that took everything miraculous about rock music and put it into every song. The songwriting on Behind the Music is fantastic, every song a separate, stand-alone work, making up a whole, unified album. And, in a rare show of good taste on the part of the music industry, Behind the Music even garnered a Grammy nomination.
The Soundtrack of Our Lives were formed in Gothenburg, Sweden in the mid-90s and have been transforming their sound for the last decade. Their versatility is astounding. From the thick-guitared, heavy-bass blasts of “Believe I’ve Found,” “Transcendental Suicide” and “Bigtime,” on Origin Vol. I (Warner/Telegram Oct. 2004), to peculiar and sweet ditties like “Embryonic Rendezvous,” and “Grand Canaria” on Infant Freebase, Soundtrack combines every sound available to produce music that is intriguing and original.
The earlier albums, giving way to the polish and relative lightness of Behind the Music, reveal the core of the band inside a live machinery of complex musical voices. Extended Revelation and Infant Freebase are where the band’s sound originated, sparked together by intense musical skill, soulful humor, and the talent to write and play together in the real way rock is meant to be played. Ebbot Lundberg’s vocals, Ian Person and Mattias Bärjed’s guitars, Kalle Gustafsson Jerneholm’s bass, Fredrik Sandsten’s drums, and Martin Hederos’ keyboards were all made for each other. Every sound each of them makes is at the heart of the music that would unweave without any one of them.
When the sound that she made was an echo of an ancient head / And the wind isn’t willing to blow away a word she said / Now we all have to carry the stones for all the weight she bled / From gravity to gold
- “From Gravity to Gold”
From the starting pulse of “Regenesis,” the opening track on Extended Revelation (Warner/Telegram April 1998), the psychedelic opens and is outerspace at its best – it is code-breaking in the company of ciphers. It is jams and plays and weird electronic sounds and, in the end, all lovely, distinct songs. “Century Child” is one of the finest rock songs ever written, with its beautiful guitar, moving vocals, and melancholic rhythm. There is the lovely trail of “Impact & Egos,” a sweet, wavy tune, with its swirling guitar, going into “Aqua Vera,” with its whispers and water sounds, then “From Gravity to Gold,” with its forlorn vocals that still hope, and “So Far,” beginning with drums and lovely bass, happier, but we’re all still sad, and delicate vocals that are sweet and rough.
With a meaning and a hope to fade away / From the ones who think they’ve got nothing left to say / Well, if you think you’ve grown colder when you open up inside / Leave a black star on your shoulder and you will be out of sight
- “Black Star”
And, somewhere near the end of the album, there’s “Black Star,” which became my favorite Soundtrack song. Its heartfelt vocals and lush instrumentation make it as anthemic a song as any other rock song you danced to when you were 14. Ending the album, “Love Song #3105,” “Jehovah Sunrise,” and “All For Sale,” are folky, so pretty, and make you feel melancholy and content at the same time. It’s like a colored field or colored lights or some other vision you have when you’re alone and have stopped thinking about anything. It’s like lying there, feeling the ground, and knowing it will move but not for another two minutes, at least.
A language from far away / Left in the sanddunes of / a place that used to be for good //
It’s heartshaped, it’s round, it’s a cross / A result of magic and loss / It’s earth, wind and fire in ice / And it lies between the corners of the skies
- “For Good”
An album can’t start out any better than with the song “Mantra Slider.” Welcome to the Infant Freebase (Warner/Telegram Maj 1996) begins with guitar rising from coiled notes and loads into a brilliant song, powered by thick, melodic guitar riffs and assured vocals. This goes into “Firmament Vacation (A Soundtrack of Our Lives),” another tune with solid vocals and packed, tiered orchestration. Other quirky anthems like “Instant Repeater ’99,” “Four Ages (Part II),” “The Homo Habilis Blues,” and “Rest In Piece,” light up right in the middle and keep radiating. “Embryonic Rendezvous” and “For Good” haunt with shimmery vocal lines and dreamy lyrics, with soft guitar and keyboard reminiscent of the 60s, eerie and bittersweet. This album is Soundtrack’s quirkiest and rawest, full of the invention and wildness that typifies the creation of the band’s sound. That the slime and blood and unique inner skin came with it makes it all the better. Any album with a screaming baby reminiscent of “2001: A Space Odyssey” on its cover has got to be good, ridiculously good, mind-blowingly good, out to the moon and back good.
The greatest thing about these two albums is that they don’t really begin and end. There is the given order of the songs and a spherical progression and that’s how I listen to them, songs in no particular order. They rearrange themselves into sweet, intertwined sequence, all swirl and melody, rhythm and vibration. The sound is soulful and you can feel the hearts and weird spirits of every band member in each note and beat. When I first started listening to them, it reminded me of a time when band members actually wrote and recorded in the same studio, with the organic and raw feeling of instruments playing out of their little shells and breaking into each other. It was dazzling and rich and real. And this was all without ever seeing them live.
In the summer of 2004, they came to the U.S. I planned to go with my friend Hope and her friend, Steve, who were coming up from Philly for the free show at Battery Park, in lower Manhattan. At the time, I was working 17 hours a day and was bone-exhausted and on the edge of becoming hellishly ill, so I spent that night curled in my bed, missing the show.
I first saw the band live two days after my birthday, in January 2005, at one of their shows in support of Origin Vol. I. I almost didn’t go because I was inconsolable after a breakup of a two-year relationship right at New Year’s. It was freezing and awful out, and I waited outside Bowery Ballroom, weighing whether or not to go home. But my friends showed up and we went in. That night would start something up in me that I had buried and blow it wide open in a way only an unbelievably great live show can.
From the very first sound when they came out on the stage and started playing, I was heart-struck. They blew through “Believe I’ve Found,” “Bigtime,” and “Borderline,” all standouts from Origin and older songs from previous albums, in a seamless pouring out of the best live music I had heard in ages. They were gloriously sloppy and magically tight, melodically gorgeous and raw. It was like hippie music for rockers. Now I have been to a lot of metal shows and metal fans are, in huge part, assholes. There is the occasional sweet metal boy, but I have been jostled, grabbed, pushed, cursed, pulled, spilled on, and bruised at metal shows and the experience of seeing some of my favorite bands has been ruined by the audience. The audience at the Soundtrack show was, by far, the nicest group of people I have ever seen a show with.
I felt enveloped in an energy that was warm and intense, bright and psychedelic, and my mind didn’t stop lighting up until days after that first amazing show. And, to quell any doubts that it was the music that made me high, I have never done drugs and wasn’t on anything at that show. It was the incredible show that made me forget I was in love with someone who I would never see again, and by the end of the show, I couldn’t even remember his name. The Bowery show single-handedly and, within a couple of hours, shot me back seven years earlier to when I was singing in bands in San Francisco and recalled for me, in perfect clarity, what it was that I had loved so much about music and writing and playing with other musicians. Soundtrack’s dreamlike show, with Ebbot’s fancy robe and rich voice, his glowing, humor-filled presence on stage, to the swelteringly hot, exploding guitars, intense, dark, beautiful bass, pounding drums, and strange, melodious keyboard, brought back music to me in a way I thought I’d never feel it again.
Since that first show, I have seen them in New Orleans, once, at the start of their 2005 Origin tour in the States, at The Parish at the House of Blues. Then a bunch of times around New York City – two unbelievably energetic shows at the Knitting Factory, starting at 1am, after they’d already played a show supporting Robert Plant, and once at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. And the last time I saw them was at Konserthuset, a beautiful classical concert hall, in Gothenburg, Sweden. I have never been disappointed in their playing or in their intensity. They are always all there, and give everything they have to playing. They are as good on the road as they are in the studio. The belief they have in their playing and the outrageous intensity they bring to the stage is all faith. It’s all about faith for this band, and having lost it, and regained it – their music lives on that fragile line in between.
Their new CD, A Present from the Past, is out now. You can get it as an import in the U.S.
Photos are by Boel Ferm.
- Arielle Guy