Posts Tagged ‘Dungen’

Best of 2020 (so far)

2020’s been a hell of a year, and one that doesn’t feel like definitive statements do it justice. Still, no matter how many seismic changes have occurred during the year, the music has been a source of solace and inspiration. The fact that so many artists have had their livelihoods upended gives it a slightly sour note, especially for some that may have been working years to let these statements out into the world. Keep hitting the Bandcamp revenue shares to support artists and labels directly. If you need some suggestions there’s quite a few below. Keep in mind that ‘best’ is by no means definitive, but these are some of my favorites. We all know that Run The Jewels hits hard, but someone else is gonna tell you about it better than I ever could. Still lots to look forward to musically in the second half, but the first part of the year has been a bounty to be sure.

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Dungen – Live

The live album occupies a lot of facets in a band’s catalog. If it rears its head, it can act as a placeholder, a preview of a new dawn and shift in direction, the requisite a cash grab or fundraiser, or a beacon of a band’s true place beyond the studio. For Dungen, in 2020, it seems to act as a beacon, but not of the band transforming their catalog by padding out or pushing the boundaries of their normal material, rather as a mercurial showcase for their musicianship beyond their established works. If Haxän proved anything, it’s that a band known for psychedelic prowess and studio savvy was also interested in expanding the horizons of genre by injecting an experimental spirit into their catalog that put aside notions of commercial draw . While this is not quite the seismic shift that led to a soundtrack for an obscure Russian silent film, it is imbued with the same experimental impulses. On Live they transform their acument into an album of whirlwind motion, psychic interplay, and virtuoso solos.

The record showcases the band over two nights in November 2015, at Stora Teatern in Gothenburg and Victoriateatern in Malmö. In addition to the consistently searing guitar work of Reine Fiske and the flute of Gustav Ejstes, the set features their Allas Sak collaborator Jonas Kullhammar laying down some fire on the sax. With a turbulent sea of rhythm behind them these three set loose a psychedelic dervish that’s spun sound into a dizzying conjunction of psychedelia, jazz, and acid rock. The band is at their peak on these recordings, not bound by notions of what Dungen has been defined by in the past, but building something that stands as a singular document of instrumental fortitude. It’s Dungen, in as much as the players are all there, but aside from lingering recurrent melodies from their past, this is a powerful document of players pushing themselves to redefine psychedelia in the live setting. This album, paired with the recent live album by Mythic Sunship from their Roskilde appearances sets a new bar for where the live record can reach. If there was a time that Dungen sparked a fire in your soul, then let this rekindle it yet again. The band’s never lost a step, but this some of the soundest evidence how exactly they’ve kept psych vital.



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RSTB Best of 2019

2019’s drawing to a close, so I suppose this is the place to tie it all up. I’ve mentioned in years past that ‘best’ is a hard line to draw around the music from the year. From a blog perspective ‘favorite’ seems more appropriate, but then for all intents and purposes my choices are qualitatively the best to me, if not necessarily quantitatively best in the sense of the zeitgeist. The drive to figure out what’s best seems to just consolidate consensus and we’re all treated to dozens of lists that cross over with each other, especially in the top spots. I’ve long been a proponent of niche. I say long live finding your voice and letting others find theirs – we can all compare notes and discover new music in the process. I don’t need anyone to sand the edges and offer up a list that’s all inclusive. I like the edges. These are my favorites from a great year, edges and all.

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VA – Self Discovery For Social Survival

When word of this comp first came down, I mentioned that this was an ambitious undertaking, to say the least. That’s a bit of an understatement. In an age of shrinking profits its rare for a major to take on something this lofty, let alone a (rather largish) indie. Mexican Summer paired with Pilgrim Surf + Supply to send three groups of professional surfers, film crews, and a band to score each of the sessions as they were shot. The idea was for the bands to pick up the vibes of the day and translate them into accompaniment that completely absorbed the mood of the film. As far as an overarching goal, the soundtrack succeeds on all fronts, but better than that, it holds up on its own merits even if the listener isn’t also immersed in the film.

The first portion of the film sees US and Australian surfers travel to Mexico and with them in tow are the Allah-las. This trip is marked by amber-hued sun streaks. Everything seems a bit faded and worn-in. The Allah-las capture the ease of the session, laying back into a lounged vision of surf that’s classic and propulsive. They’re the kind of songs that could waft into the background and instantly ease a mood. There’s a feeling of communal living, irregular schedules, and a quiet cool that rumples itself into the notes. The scenes in the film are aided even further with the addition of titling and animation by Robert Beatty and Bailey Elder, who give this section a ’69-’72 timestamp that soaks into the seams along with the music.

From there the film transitions to The Maldives, with the majority of the segment taking place aboard a houseboat. The tones turn from sepia to crystal blue and with it the mood is given a lift out of the melt of Mexico. Peaking Lights add a dub shimmer to the section, half party, half hallucination. There’s an opulence to this portion, but not to the point of indulgence. It feels like a vacation – fleeting in truth, but forever in the moment. Peaking lights have moved away from their xeroxed dub roots and here they’re headed for more Arthur Russell territory. They give this portion its sense of detachment from reality, helping to freeze each pane into a picture of unattainable bliss.

While on the topic of otherworldly, the last section of the film takes the viewer to Iceland, a venue I’d never thought of as surf destination. Here Conan Mockasin and Andrew Vanwyngarden (MGMT) accompany a group that traverses the grey-streaked, mountain-strewn landscape. All the warmth of the previous sections is stripped away and, accordingly, Mockasin and Vanwyngarden give their songs an icy edge – lonesome, melancholic, half-remembered. Here the vistas almost outpace the surfing for attention, with scenes among the northern lights soundtracked by the pair’s psylocibin disco and light-touch folk feeling like a dream that couldn’t possibly have happened. There’s none of Mockasin’s usual twisted bravado. Instead the music is almost fragile – haunted and hollow at times. This trip and its tunes feel like a journey inward, not the communal experience of the other groups.

The three main bands aren’t the only ones to hold sway over the soundtrack and film, though. Dungen give an especially inspired take for the title sequence that’s born out of their wistful psychedelia. It laps just slightly at the roots of surf, while essentially embracing its own genre. Transitions between sections are given an ambient fizz by Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, who evokes a submerged sound under lush animations, which are again provided by Elder and Beatty. Sadly, missing from the soundtrack is the offbeat wisdom and roadworn poeticism of Jonas Mekas, whose narration ties the film together with a non-sequitur sageness. It’s likely that you might not encounter the film, though I’d recommend it for surf aficionados or unfamiliar friends alike.

Even without its visual partner, the soundtrack exhales ease, hope, sadness, solace. As a counterpoint to the film its pretty perfect, but it’s a great mood lifter on its own merits. As I mentioned, they don’t make projects like this anymore, might as well enjoy when someone goes all in for you. It’s somewhat telling that the label has reissued the score to Andrew Kidman’s Litmus, Self Discovery for Social Survival acts as a spiritual successor to that film and its unique accompaniment. Often hailed as the best surf film of its generation, the label has seemingly done the same for the the 21st Century. In this, they’ve created their own Litmus.


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Self Discovery for Social Survival:
Surf Film + Soundtrack

Quite and interesting one coming down the pike (so to speaK) today in the form of a super ambitious film and soundtrack from the folks over at Mexican Summer. Now Sum’s reissue arm Anthology has been digging into surf culture for a while, issuing vinyl versions of Tully and Tamam Shud LPs that tied into Aussie surf culture while also reissuing soundtracks to Andrew Kidman’s Litmus and Glass Love surf films and packing them into a high-end box. Seems only natural then that someone over there was going to push it one step further. That step included getting top surfers from the US and Australia to travel with three groups of musicians and films crews to three top surf spots. The completed film follows Allah-Las and their surf group to Mexico, Peaking Lights and theirs to the Maldive Islands and Conan Mockasin & MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden with a group to Iceland. Each group then composed songs as reactions to the days surfing footage which is cut together with narration by filmmaker Jonas Mekas and art and animation from Robert Beatty and Bailey Elder (who also provide the packaging for this artifact).

Add to that extra pieces from Dugen and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and this is a fairly unique package. I’m no surfer, never stepped on a board in my life, but the scope of this and the breadth of talent involved is frankly pretty intriguing. Plus, the psychedelic shimmer of the soundtrack stands on its own, even if you never witness the fully combined efforts. Check the trailer above and keep a lookout for this sucker when it comes out June 14th.

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Träden

The crux of Träd Gräs och Stenar was always the immediacy of the songs, the feeling that the magic happened in the studio (or field) as the players worked parts off of one another finding the spark that threw drone against groove and ignited the heart of the song. To that end the magic comes from those who are present and accounted for in the tessellation of Träd. The band has evolved over the years, moving from Pärson Sound to International Harvester, before stopping at Träd Gräs och Stenar. They’ve swapped in all manner of Swedish psych legends – Bo Anders Persson, Thomas Gartz (who was also in the great Mecki Mark Men) – and now with a move to become simply Träden, the band drops out many of the legacy players and picks up a young(er) crew to keep on the tradition. ‘Round about the last album they picked up Reine Fiske of Dungen fame, who remains here, and now they snag another current young swede with Hanna Östergren (Hills) filling in for the departed Gartz.

The name shift seem appropriate given the lineup shuffle. Only Jakob Sjöholm remains from the original crew, and his songwriting is as sharp as ever. The newer members, though, find themselves pulling up to the task. Östergren has some big sticks to fill, but as her tenure in Hills would attest, she’s more than up to the task. The new Träden feels most at home stretching out and most tracks are pushing past the nine minute mark with jams to spare. The opener, “När Lingon Mognar (Lingonberries Forever)” is muscular and methodical, as hefty a cut as TGoS would pull from their catalog, but the band keeps to the genre shirking ethos that’s done the band well for decades. They burn through prog forests only to pop up in folk fields. They stomp through riffs and pull the air out of the studio for a Kosmiche float that’s wrapped in the stars. They wax poetic then skirt vocals altogether.

It seems a new name can’t fight the traditions of Träd Gräs och Stenar, the band is just as much a bundle of contradictions as they’ve ever been. The new players may tighten up the approach a bit, but they don’t shave the shag off of one of psych’s longest running institutions. Completists will no doubt have already lined their shelves with the latest in an exhaustive catalog, but new listeners transitioning from modern movers like Hills, The Myrrors, or Kikagaku Moyo might find this an intiguing entry point. Its not the full Träd Gräs och Stenar show, but its cliff’s notes and the next chapter rolled into one.




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Dungen / Träden’s Reine Fiske on Alrune Rod – S/T

This one works as a double shot wishlist for Hidden Gems collaborators. Reine Fiske holds down time in perennial RSTB favorites Dungen but has recently been working alongside legend in his own right Jakob Sjöholm in a newly revived Träd, Gräs Och Stenar (now recording as Träden. Normally it’d be great to get some input from either of those bands, but Reine holds together eras of Swedish psychedelic tradition in his role, giving this one that much more heft. Both artists have been fixtures around here since the beginning of the site, so it’s a pleasure to have him involved. Ahead of Träden’s upcoming eponymous album, Reine digs into a Hidden Gem from Danish band Alrune Rod (translation: Mandrake Root), their 1969 debut LP for the Sonet label. Fiske explores what makes this album such a treasure and, as usual, what impact its had on his own music.

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Dungen & Woods

In addition to curating a psychedelic sojourn in Texas each year, Mexican Summer’s Marfa Myths festival produces a collaborative piece that serves as universal souvenir, even for those not able to make it down to the sunbaked namesake in any given year. In the past this has offered up collab slabs from Conan Mockasin/Dev Hines and Ariel Pink/Weyes Blood respectively, both fair pieces in their own right. On the eve of the upcoming festival the label releases the fruits of last year’s team up and this one hits me harder than either of the previous two, combining the talents of Woods (Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveniere) and Dungen (Gustav Ejstes and Reine Fisk), two longtime favorites here.

On paper that seems like it has to work, and for the most part this is an overtly successful blending of the two bands’ styles. It could be said that Woods have been moving towards more complex arrangements with each release, and to that end the addition of Dungen’s lush songwriting style both fits and isn’t too far a jump. When the two bands really dig into each other’s styles, though, the record soars. The opener serves essentially as an instrumental Dungen track, occupying the same space that the band has built out in their catalog over the years for the kind of soaring flute and kush psychedelics that beg the listener to lean back into their fawning embrace. Likewise, the second track “Turn Around” feels like a Woods song with a bit more padding – a good Woods song mind you, but not one that feels like it might be out of place on their last couple of albums. Only the lingering flute lends a wink of Gustav Ejstes’s fingerprints on the song.

But as they eke into the second instrumental of the set, the aptly titled “Marfa Sunset,” the two bands begin to smelt their strengths into a bubbling psychedelia that’s twisting with Woods’ effects bent past and Dungen’s smooth ‘70s glow. Once they begin to melt Jeremy Earl’s falsetto into a cloud of echo and the two singers go for harmonies, then the record blossoms into the potential offered up by the premise. The culmination of the album becomes an oasis from the Texan heat, glittering with a dew-soaked psychedelia that’s nourishing to the soul. The high point “Jag Ville Va Kvar” offers doubled returns on any listener’s investment, elevating this far beyond party favor and into favored canon for both artists. The past installments have been worth a pop in, but this collaboration gives good argument to the festival as incubator for one-off dream teams.




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Dungen

The scope of Häxan is as ambitious as it is intriguing. The members of Dungen were asked to soundtrack the 1926 film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed by artist Lotte Reiniger. The film is the oldest, in tact animated feature film in existence and Dungen’s score sees the band branch out of their ’70s widescreen psych on several admirable levels. They immerse the all instrumental album in lush soundtrack swells embracing strings like never before. They roll out many of the psychsploitation tropes evident in the Finder Keepers ranks, leaning especially clost to the scores of Jean-Bernard Raiteux and Jean Rollin. The rest of the score patterns itself after ’60’s and ’70s Library Music motifs that prove the band has more than done the homework to meet the challenge of this project. Of course they can’t resist just a bit of their own signature stamp, and the score’s culmination in the thundering “Andarnas Krig” has many of the hallmarks that would befit a regular album release for the band, though it’s inclusion blends quite well with their psychedelic Papier Mâché world.

The score provides a sweeping counterpoint to Reiniger’s animation, built around her rich color palette and painstakingly blocked animations. The album is presented non-sequentially with regard to the film’s narrative, but they’ve drawn their inspiration and tone from her story, while fitting their pieces into an arc of their own. They imbue the whole album with a rich nuance, but as the title might suggest (Häxan means “Witch”) the scenes of The Witch give them the most to work with and they find in the character the kind of explosive, crackling energy that fuels their most psychedelic urges. Though, if it were just some limp interludes in between amp fry, Häxan would fail out of the gate. It never feels like they’re waiting for the next explosion, dripping the rest of the pieces in as much shading and texture as those dealing with their favored subject, just with the intensity rolled back.

Dungen have long been a band working with a level of skill that’s set them apart from your standard psych shredders, but with the academic approach and immersive scope of Häxan they knock themselves into a more serious tier of composition. They truly give Reiniger’s work a new life and create a standalone statement that’s worthy of collectors who trade in psych cinema’s aural ephemera. Check out a clips of Reiniger’s film Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, Act 4, Act 5 to see how the score adds to her style.


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