As most of you know (and here's a little recent history for those of you who don't), Epitonic was a Web 2.0 OG, ruling the world of MP3 downloads from 1999 until 2004. From the time the site went inactive in 2004 until we relaunched in March this year, we hear tell a few albums got released. There's a lot of good stuff that didn't make it onto our site during that time, and we feel uncomfortable having this gaping hole in our curating efforts. So periodically, we'll do a feature where upload some of the tracks we missed during that time period, along with a little overview of why we felt these songs were important enough to retrofit to our archives. Most will likely be tracks you've heard of and may already own; if so, we hope you enjoy a trip down the more recently paved areas of memory lane. If not, hey, new music for you! This week, we're uploading five excellent songs we missed from Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark.
Ah, Scandinavia. Not sure if it's the excellent healthcare, good schools, generous government funding for the arts (this is probably a pretty key element) or all-around decent quality of life, but our friends to the far north are serious business when it comes to turning out great songs. From avant-garde electronica to black metal to Labrador Records' sweet twee tunes, that corner of the world is a creative powerhouse.
The Knife "Marble House": Karin Dreijer Andersson and her brother Olaf are unparalleled in their ability to seamlessly meld a striking visual aesthetic to their accomplished, sophisticated songs. The music sounds simultaneously forward-thinking and like a 1980s electro retrospective, and their lyrics blur the boundaries between childhood fascinations and adult terrors. The latter is basically the premise of Silent Shout's "Marble House", a tale of codependency, obsession, and loss which also happens to be my all-time favorite Knife song. It's a particularly great expression of the duo's ability to skirt the edges of a story and still tell a complete tale -- and also, their subtle touch when it comes to working elements of traditional Eastern European music into otherwise thoroughly modern arrangements. Also, the line "I wanted to walk a trail with no end in sight" just kills me every time. Hope and sadness both make you feel like moving forward forever, and that line is such a simple, elegant way to convey the whole mixed bag of exhilaration and restlessness.
Jens Lekman "A Higher Power": If Elvis Costello is the archangel of relationship anxiety, Jens Lekman is the patron saint. Lekman's got a way with painting pictures of flawed relationships in ways that are quirky without edging into bastardized Miranda July territory. "Higher Power" exemplifies this in spades, chronicling Lekman's unconventional courtship efforts: making out under a plastic bag until they both pass out, holding her hair while she pukes at a Christmas party, making out again during a church service, etc. It's a thoroughly imperfect situation, but those heart-tugging string arrangements and Lekman's mooning do a great job convincing us it's the romance of the century.
Hans Appelqvist "Tänk Att Himlens Alla Stjärnor": Think of Hans Appelqvist as Sweden's folkie answer to the Books: A master at cleverly integrating found sounds and spoken samples into something resembling the constraints of popular music. Birds, mewing kittens and grinding gears share time with a sweet folk melody, punctuated at times by cartoon sound effects and eager offbeat percussion. It's like the softer gentler cousin of the Beatles' "Good Morning Good Morning" (which isn't on Epitonic for reasons that should be obvious).
Sigur Rós "Hoppípolla": The first few bars of "Hoppípolla" thinking the song could veer into adult contemporary territory; and truly, it's one of the Icelandic collective's most accessible songs, all gentle orchestration and swooning romanticism. Unsurprisingly, "Hoppípolla" got tapped to soundtrack the ad campaign for "Planet Earth" -- a series that reveals the intricate, complex workings of life, right down to the most minuscule levels. Props to the music supervisor for using songs from a band whose insane attention to detail generates compositions that sound like elaborate, self-contained worlds.
Metal bonus! Watain "Stellarvore": Even a cursory exploration of Norse mythology eliminates any curiosity a person might have concerning Scandinavia's obsession with black metal. In Greek and Roman mythology, people solve problems with backstabbing and social scheming; in Norse mythology, people solve problems by hitting them with hammers. Their Armageddon myth makes the Bible's Revelations sound like Harold and the Purple Crayon. If living in Chicago has taught me anything, it's that living in a place that's fucking cold and dark over half the year ingrains a unique kind of fatalism into people: Enjoy the good times while you can, because awful shit is always right around the corner. And to me, that's a sufficient explanation for why a country full of (generally) content people has such a penchant for bleak music. "Stellarvore" is pretty much as close as you get to the platonic ideal of Swedish black metal. Breakbeat drums, raw vocals, nihilism and dragons and Arthur Rimbaud cribbing, lyrics all with the awkward passive construction endemic to fantasy novels and epic poem translations. We absolutely don't condone the politics that a lot of black metal bands tout -- but we do condone campy, melodic hardcore. Please listen loudly.
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