Perhaps my review of the latest album by Sweden’s Dungen could begin like this:
“The new Dungen album is a wonderful slab of beyond-mid-century post-psychedelic indie rock in which the band attempts to answer the eternal progressive question : Wot’s… Uh the Deal?”
Ok, so maybe that approach is a little too laser like….
How ’bout: “Across its new album’s 42 minutes, Dungen confronts the rollercoaster of life from ‘The Last Guest’ to ‘The Last Party’ to thorny issues such as ‘Frank’s Cactus.'”
Ok, especially since I don’t speak Swedish, maybe we’d all be better off if I don’t attempt to read between the lyrical lines of Dungen’s fine new album Allas Sak which, by the way, my online translator tells me means “Everyone’s Thing.”
Getting sort of serious ‘n stuff, the reality is, Dungen’s music may not in fact be everyone’s thing. Yet, in a perfect world it should be.
Because Dungen is a band that has been sticking to its guns, singing only in it’s native tongue while fine tuning a sound it has nurtured for years that celebrates and subtly updates the sounds of the late ’60s rock underground. We’re not really talking about the San Francisco brand of Summer of Love psychedelia here. There are no fish and country Joe’s here… no messenger services here (no matter how quick they may be)…. no charlatans, airplanes or hot tunas either.
In an improvisational sense, there may be some remnant good old Grateful Dead in Dungen’s DNA supplemented by, perhaps, a blood transfusion from Los Angeles’ Love and New York’s Vanilla Fudge.
However, to my ear Dungen’s music feels more European, perhaps born off the splintered ribs of Arnold Layne, The Good Mr. Square and Dear Mr. Fantasy.
Ok, by now you are all probably wondering what kind of drugs this band might have slipped me…
To which I reply: none.
I’m just having some fun and trying to encourage you, Dear Readers, to do a little homework as I just slipped you some tabs of influence that might help you grok Dungen’s bag.
Let me ask you a question (which admittedly assumes that if you have read this far you are in fact a fan of more progressive and improvisational music):
Have you’ve ever wondered what it might have been like to see actually see a band from London’s psychedelic underground of the late 60s — a scene that spawned bands like The Pink Floyd and The Soft Machine? Have you ever wished you had a time machine that could take you back to experience those fertile times?
Personally, I would have loved to have seen The Pretty Things back in the day as they broke out songs from S.F. Sorrow and — especially — Parachute live. I only had to wait 35 years to finally get to see Nektar live. It would have been so cool to see Roxy Music when Brian Eno was still in the band. How many of you got to see Henry Cow live? How about seeing Neu! when they were new?
If any of this appeals to you, then Dungen should be high on your list of bands’ to listen to …
And put aside the fact that unless you understand Swedish, you won’t be able to understand anything this band is singing about.
It doesn’t matter. This band makes really engaging, catchy and challenging progressive music which at once recalls many of its influences without sounding exactly like any of them.
I was turned on to Dungen via their breakthrough album Ta Det Lugnt (which means “Take it Easy” according to the online translator) and became an immediate fan.
Recently, I had the good fortune to see them perform live and I was not disappointed. In fact, the band vastly exceeded my expectations only confirming what I suspected: these guys are deeply, deeply committed to the music they are making, conveying a collective vision that is greater than the individual members’ contributions.
For me, Dungen’s performance live was everything Tame Impala’s wasn’t. Granted, when I saw Tame Impala, they were opening for The Flaming Lips so I acknowledge that they didn’t have the benefit of two-plus hours of performing time in which to stretch out. Nonetheless, while Dungen took the audience on a grand musical journey even with fairly concise song structures, Tame Impala in effect just showed us pictures of their summer vacation.
Engaging the audience and taking them along on genuine journey is one of the hallmarks common to the best bands across genres — and they don’t have to be improvisational jam bands, mind you — and that is something I look and listen for when checking out new artists. I could tell this was happening with Dungen because the (nearly sold-out!) house was mostly younger people in their 20s and 30s, who were for the most part listening intently, watching the band’s every move. It was really refreshing to see a young crowd this engaged, something I have not seen in quite some time.
]]>So how does the new album sound? If you like vintage late 60s rock sounds, Allas Sak will sound great to you. I really like it. You’ll hear over saturated drums played to perfection, you’ll hear flutes, congas, saxophones and multi part harmonies. Dungen take some of its musical cues from the likes of innovators like Brian Wilson — so if you listen closely you’ll sometimes hear instruments doubling up parts to create a new sound, such as distorted guitar and saxophone, flute and keyboards, and so on…
Initially I purchased one of the standard LP vinyl copies of the album I found at local shop 1-2-3-4 Go Records here in San Francisco — it is apparently a limited edition of 1500 copies, pressed on nice thick, black, probably 180-gram vinyl. The pressing is clean, dead quiet and overall solid, allowing the music to jump out of speakers and ultimately let you forget you are listening to a record. I have no idea as to whether the album was recorded digitally or analog, but I suspect it is probably digital at some point in the production chain. I’ll put it this way: there were no red flags going up when I was listening to this recording, no tell tale harsh edges hurting my ears, even when turning up the volume on my amplifier quite loud to push some air.
At Dungen’s concert here in San Francisco, I was pleasantly surprised to find they were selling an even more limited edition (of 500) pressing on red vinyl and — me being me — of course I bought a copy (hey, I like supporting bands I’m into!). The red vinyl, while cool, did have a pressing anomaly — thankfully only at one point near the start of the album; there is a bit of “non-fill” on my copy, resulting in a quick second or two of “pffft” type sounds emanating from the speakers. Its not terrible and happened only that once on my copy so I’m not going to kick and scream about it — but I did want to let you, Dear Readers, know about this as a possible issue. Hopefully your copy will not have that issue.
The album also comes with a download card for a 320 kbps MP3 (at a 48 kHz sample rate, curiously) that sounds fine for listening on the go.
Fans of the band will of course curious to know how the new album stacks up to the earlier albums? Again, I really like it! There are so many great melodic ideas going on here; the music on Allas Sak is cut from the same sort of cloth as Ta Det Lugnt, but it perhaps seems a bit more concise in its presentation. I take it as a good thing, a sign of compositional maturity, giving us the hooks and then take us on exotic space jams before bringing us back home.
Dungen indeed delivers a most magical of mystery tours…. so, roll up!
They’re waiting to take you away…