Voices of the 'B' Hives

Scandinavian Garages and Carburetor Dung

Garage-rock revivals have sprung up like instant-oil-change franchises across the globe the past few years, but nobody's been quite as prominent in this expansion as Sweden's Hives, especially since Veni Vidi Vicious came out in America in early 2002. In what can only be described as a projectile-vomiting level of efficiency, the Hives' set disgorges 12 short, sweet bursts of sneer in just over 28 minutes. It's postpunk music lacking any political context, vacant style for its own pretty sake, highly compelling all the while. Media speculation that the Hives' mysterious sixth member-chief songwriter "Randy Fitzsimmons" is actually guitarist Nicholaus Arson/Almqvist has since zeroed in on fellow Swede Max Martin (an IKEA assemble-it-yourself version of earlier pop Svengali Mike Chapman), which could well account for the very sharp hooks studding each of the Hives' songs. But forget the auteur—will three fast chunky chords ever not sound good?!?

Several U.S.-based record labels, in their rush to sign other likely garage door openers from in and around Scandinavia, are betting not. Interestingly, a number of northern-lights bands echo the Hives' core belief that all great punk derives from the Sonics, a mid-'60s Northwest-U.S. combo distinguished by Gerry Roslie's legendary strychnine-tonsiled vocals, though none of the other acolytes come close to the Hives in replicating that precise screech. In fact, Norway's Cato Salsa Experience, who've made the next-biggest Scandigarage chart move in the U.S. with their "So, the Circus Is Back in Town" single/video, share the Hives' manic urgency, but have moved the wayback-machine dial a year or two ahead, to that prime paisley gland of garage, 1966-67, with their swirladelic guitars and insulin-pump keyboards. On A Good Tip for a Good Time(Emperor Norton), they furnish us all a great dance album for free-form freakouts around our pulsating pads.

Both the Flaming Sideburns (on Save Rock'n'Roll) and Sahara Hotnights (on Jennie Bomb) are making their American debuts in red, black, and white Jetset Records CD jackets, perhaps to send out subliminal vibes linking them to Detroit's White Stripes, and the colors do run true. Finland's Flaming Sideburns discharge the texture of classic garage rock as though they just crawled out from under a '64 GTO, with their simple lyric phrases swaggering up and down deep 4-barrels of raucous riffing. Along the way (and a bit outside their signature style), the Sideburns' "Flowers" is a perfect-day circa-'69 Velvet Underground cop. But the Saab sisters in Sahara Hotnights varoom out of a garage where Suzi Quatro and Joan Jett once parked their 'sickles (the genre came a bit later for women because of proscriptions against them picking up electric instruments during the actual '60s), and place their liberated and revving guitars in the service of excited, supple punkpop.

The long-hovering Hellacopters are getting lumped in with the Scandigarage scene now, because they too operate out of Sweden and play loud, basic rock 'n' roll, but their sound actually derives more from a 1970s arena-based worldview, complete with flare-bottomed guitar workouts that leave a metallic taste in your mouth. The Hellacopters' Cream of the Crap!(Gearhead) collects non-album cuts dating back to 1995, and thus provides somewhat more sonic variety than the grimly workaday recent High Visibility (Gearhead). Meanwhile, their labelmates in the "Demons" come on as bad-willed mofos outta the welfare state, but I have to wonder how tough these deviled Svenskas really are if they have to spare someone's (religious?) sensibilities by putting their name in quotes. Maybe that's why Stockholm Slump (Gearhead) doesn't strike me as the "punk" the "Demons" claim for it as much as some kind of grindcore drag race with minimal redeeming wit. The beauty of the Hives and Cato Salsa Experience is that they've got both the slashing chords and the detached-garage smirk that let us all in on the joke.

The Swedes in the Nomads are serious artistes of a different sort, eminently respectful of their garage ancestors, with a scholarly earnestness that recalls such genre revivalists as the U.S.'s own Chesterfield Kings. The Nomads have been toiling away in this motor pool for quite a while, so their well-lubed sound on Up-Tight (Sympathy for the Record Industry) features some of the best-projected, most idiomatic English-as-our-second-lingo lyrics among all these Scandsters. Division of Laura Lee have come over from Sweden in steerage, on the same label that erupted the Hives, and Black City (Burning Heart/Epitaph) recalls their big bruzzers on cuts like "Second Rule Is," but elsewhere devolves into a joyless Division, with a passive angst-and-you-shall-receive take on the whole Viking-out scene.

So, the Scandinavian circus is set up in all our towns now, with three great chords and three great nations (four counting Iceland's Björk, long an icon in the related "Carport Musique" scene) churning out a variety of copacetic sounds, as rated in the follow-the-line-through-the-IKEA-store maze above. In the meantime, I can't wait until the garrulous garage gals in Finland's Thee Ultra Bimboos send their first major release over here for the New World market. I'm getting a case of Hives just thinking about that prurient prospect.


Sahara Hotnights and the Flaming Sideburns play the Elbow Room November 1; Division of Laura Lee play Warsaw November 2; Cato Salsa Experience play Bowery Ballroom November 3.

 
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