Christian and the 2120s “Wellknown Strangers” (Independent, 2018)

The founding member, songwriter, singer and guitar player Christian Smedström got the 2120s together back in 2010, since when there has already been three full albums and a clutch of EPs from this Swedish band. With a fluid line-up over the years, with Christian as the focal point, the current band is filled out with Kristoffer Rangstam on drums and Krister Selander Jonsson on bass and backing vocals. The latest release ‘Wellknown Strangers‘ is a collection of low-fi songs which have the immediacy of live performance, and the intimacy of that live performance being a house gig.

“‘Asleep at the Wheel‘ takes this to the extreme, with the acoustic guitar lightly strummed, the piano sounding like it hasn’t been miked quite right and the vocals, especially the backing harmonies, as ragged as a first run through. It’s a gorgeous number – pointing an exhausted wagging finger at a friend who drifts through life “half awake and half asleep /…/ I can’t figure you out“.

There’s dark imagery shot through the heart of the first track on ‘Wellknown Stranger‘, with shamanastic beats to the percussion, eerie piano lines and lyrics which flirt with the supernatural. ‘Vampire‘ uses all these traits on a repeated accusation to one who just..takes. With the music like the theme to a low-budget horror movie, Christian Smedström chillingly lays it on the line “you think you’re Virgin Mary / But you got bloodstains on your hands“. ‘Ain’t goin to heaven‘ is a bluesy shuffle, with an accusation levelled against another for their bad traits, but then adding that in this situation no-one’s going to heaven since these are shared faults. It’s moody and brooding. ‘Silver & Gold‘ is the album’s mosh pit as it fuzzes with psychedelic power, its hypnotic beat and general “fuzzed up” feel quite reminiscent of Clinic. ‘Trouble‘ is a crunching blues rocker, all power chords and malevolence like a lost Led Zeppelin demo, as Smedström delivers an apocalyptic vision “it’s time to move mountains before the sky is turning red / you see the face of rage and ruin with promises made out of sand“.

Wellknown Strangers‘ follows a theme of disconnection – with people variously parasites, or unthinking, or steeped in bad habits that’ll drag them down. Dark and moody in sound and ultimately quite bleak in outlook it’s nevertheless an album that pulls the listener in through the shared confessional of the singing. It might not take on the first listen, but when it does take it gets its claws right under the skin.

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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