Return to Arable Land

Nowhere men from Sweden and Italy daydream of a utopia where nothing new makes sense

Distant countries like Italy and Sweden blipped back onto the hipster world map at the turn of the 21st century, after the long reign of Brazil (with tropicalia), France (la decadanse), and Norway (black metal). Italy housed barely legal reissue labels replicating LPs for free-jazz and psych-fetish completists, while the two-CD overview of Sweden's completely unheard, unfathomable Pärson Sound revealed a psychedelic Pangaea of Coltrane, Sabbath, and Terry Riley-styled sludge mass. But as Benny, Björn, or newbie dinosaurs the Hives could tell you, the Swedes (whether shaggy-bearded or clean-cut) fashionably compress and commodify genres like bubbling pop, intoxicating minimalism, and obscure nuggets of rock into black gold with the best of them (meaning the Japanese).

So it followed that the indie press pushed the latest in studiously crafted Swede styling in the form of 24-year-old Gustav Ejstes. A one-man band who doubles as recording entity Dungen, he fantasizes about being the best power trio ever, even though Dungen play as a quartet live and have eight other credited players on Ta Det Lugnt, their third record. Crunching the numbers, Dungen tune up firmly believing that it's still late '67, where rock grinds Disraeli gears on an axis that's as bold as love—a time when rock was still at the fore of pop, of harmonized nonsense choruses like "Tah-det luuuuuhn!" ("Take it eeeeasy!"). Tundra-thick tongues can't block the rock, though, even if you can't sing along: "Panda" and "Bortglömd" will make you strike air guitar windmills or pound out pursed-lip imaginary drum rolls like that's part of a NordicTrack cross training routine.

And the group—er, rather, Gustav—has the moves and looks to eerily replicate that bygone time, garnering all the vintage gear necessary, right down to the old dust warming on the tube amps. Part prodigy, part anomaly, the golden-locked lad rocks like an Encino man-child, thawed out without having heard the last 35 years of music, the result being an album pungent with pointless nostalgia. "Bortglömd" literally means forgotten, and the translation of a piano interlude reads like an ancient foretelling: "Sometimes forgotten art will be honored yet."

Dungen replicate their bygone time.
photo: Carl Abrahamsson
Dungen replicate their bygone time.

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Dungen
Ta Det Lugnt
Subliminal Sounds

Jennifer Gentle
Valende
Sub Pop

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Credited with words, vocals, guitar, bass, drums, viola, flute, production, and mixing (he even engineers like Tommy Dowd!), the overdubbed Ejstes wheels and careens like the live bands he heard at his favorite concerts when he was negative-10 years old. East meets Fillmore West on the furious psych jams and more flute-heavy lava lampers, all vibing out somewhere in a little village green out on the Shangri-Lapland. Or in whatever weird, imaginary country could house both Bill Graham venues and Live at Leeds as mausoleums, where the petrifying now never impinges on the perfect, illusory past.

Down in Padua, Italy hides Jennifer Gentle, equally obsessed with an era known only on import. If you somehow missed the Pink Floyd reference, their love of A-Syd-era whimsy is made blatant scant seconds into their third album (and Sub Pop debut), Valende. Actually a basement creation from duo Marco and Alessio, Jen Gen recreate the blotter-blottoed Salvation Army stumble that permeates Barrett's lobe-crumbling solo work. Embellished by balloon, kazoo, harmonium, and glockenspiel, voices are tweaked up to piercing pixie levels. "Universal Daughter" and "I Do Dream You" imagine a pop landscape where psilocybin caps sprout as Emily plays—sorta like Soft Machine's Canterbury country, though the skronking, middling centerpiece, "Hessoapoa," is a parable firmly set in Arable Land.

Away from the forced Mad Hatter haberdashery, Gentle's pastoral moments enchant and encircle. "The Garden" encases "Hessoapoa," and is in turn bookended by its best bits: "Golden Drawings" and "Circles of Sorrow." The former sparkles like morning dew on such earthly delights, and the latter's spectral whispers feature a twinkling chime that mimics the clockwork gears from Leonard Cohen's "Sisters of Mercy." These crystalline mechanisms act as an antique pocket watch time machine, transporting listeners back to an unmapped realm. Outside of time, birds chirp in marmalade skies, and pronounceable words are superfluous.

 
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