Searching for a better world through layers of sound.
There can be no more suitable music to accompany the wave upon wave of cloud, rain and storm of recent days. Our weather’s relentless cycle of melancholic grey deepening into sudden outbreaks of raging storm followed by a glimpse of sunshine could equally describe this latest release from Christian Kjellvander. This metrological metaphor does fall apart in one critical respect, unlike the present climate this reviewer will not tire of Kjellvander.
Kjellvander’s first solo album for three years is again relatively short at eight tracks. But these are much more than songs, more like poetry set to a deeply atmospheric soundtrack that blends a sense of space from his Swedish homeland with an American southern gothic. In between he dips into folk and indie rock drawing lyrical inspiration from the natural world and his searing outrage at the injustices of the world, particularly as he sees it, the evils of capitalism. Yet he is not without optimism. Whether climate or how we live the world is in very poor shape but it is not too late to do something about either.
The hymnal ‘Western Hemisphere’ starts the album. In his haunting baritone Kjellvander reminds us that all we need is within our grasp. We just have to stop for long enough to appreciate what lies around us. If sparse and distant to the ear the imagery is deep, “In the spring that flows through the dead of night” being one of the simpler lines.
‘Notes From The Drive Between Simat and Alcoi’ is a breathtaking soundscape that captures the craggy beauty of this part of southeastern Spain where Kjellvander once played a gig. He pays homage to a town famed for its labour movement, “Always hoping for a stage with the working-class sound” as he laments our preoccupation with consumerism, “Was I blinded by the new colours of the grey mass”. Electric guitars and a mass of keys build to an orchestral crescendo as Kjellvander and his musicians turn a song into an anthem.
The imagery of ‘Baleen Whale’ is stark. A beached whale represents the incapacity brought about by an overconsumption of all the troubles of others. Kjellvander questions himself as bass and drum slow but as you fear the worst a wave of sound tumbles in to float the cetacean while Kjellvander’s mood turns, even allowing himself a jaunty whistle.
Kjellvander lets rip at capitalism in ‘Disgust For The Poor’. “Remind me once again why you came back looking for more” sets the scene where “Everyone is a realtor” in “Our country is rich”. Vocals convey urgency, anger and despair to a cacophony of instrumentation. What particularly stands out are the brutally short lines that he spits out, “ A fear of being poor/ A fear of being poor/ A disgust for the poor”.
More specifically about himself, ‘On Wine And Jesus Christ’ has Kjellvander considering his relationship with alcohol. Perhaps unsurprising Kjellvander on booze goes rather deeper than merely being let down by the bottle. In what becomes quite a trail he concludes that for him alcohol is religion. Keeping up with verses of varying lengths and emphasis at a plodding tempo requires a clear head.
Back to the general, “We are gathered here today to discuss the fate” sets the first line of ‘We Are Gathered’ that expands into a psychedelic groove as Kjellvander ponders themes of accountability and optimism. He projects those shafts of optimism into the brighter future of ‘Dream 2066’ where capitalism is gone and climate disaster averted. Like a heart beating with nervous anticipation lyrically, vocally and musically Kjellvander dares to dream.
Around him Kjellvander assembled a group of musicians who beautifully create the shifts of emotion that characterise his writing. Micke Herrström’s mixing and with Kjellvander, production and engineering set the seal on this imposing record.