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Dungen - Ta Det Lugnt

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Artist: Dungen

Album: Ta Det Lugnt

Label: Subliminal Sounds

Review date: Sep. 19, 2004

Dungen is less of a band, and more of a project centered around the efforts of multi-instrumentalist and songwriting wunderkind Gustav Ejstes, a young Swede who has thus far managed two other albums of folk-tinged psyche rock for Sweden's Subliminal Sounds label. While his talents as both a player and a composer are undeniable, how they are ultimately applied to Ta Det Lugnt ("Take It Easy," for those of you unfamiliar with Swedish), his third full-length for the Subliminal Sounds label can present something of a problem over the course of its 40 minutes and change. While it is undeniably a good record, reaching into the stratosphere of excellence at points, Ejstes' overall modus operandi seems more akin to outright homage at times than any sort of exploration of the means and methods of vintage '70s rock and its application in a modern context.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the opening strains of the album's lead track, "Panda." Everything about it - from the compressed drums to the frenetic bassline to the guitar via a tube amp - indicates that this record was, in all likelihood, recorded in the early 1970s. But upon examination of the liner notes, one finds that it was, in fact, recorded in 2003. So is this a problem? Well, for this reviewer it sort of is. After all, homage/regurgitation as new art is the exact type of criticism I have been inclined to level at certain other bands that have cropped over the past couple of years. So sure, if you're unfamiliar with stuff like Todd Rundgren, T. Rex, or Small Faces (or perhaps just hearing it for the first time), this record hits the spot in more ways than one. But for those accustomed to this type of material, it begs a simple question: why? Why set out to remake classic rock as modernized classic rock?

To be fair, there is nothing on this disc that could really be construed as bad. In fact, most of it is quite pleasant and worthwhile. Take, for instance, "Festival." Ejstes begins with a simple acoustic strum before the backing band gallops in behind him. The vocals are sweet and airy, lending a calm before the storm of his skyward electric guitar solos that quickly become the most notable part of the track. "Du E For Fin For Mig" ("You Are Too Good For Me") is another shining example of Dungen's talent, and Ejstes' knack in particular for crafting hooks and arrangements. This time a chorus of strings sounds the introduction before giving way to the stomping rhythm that cradles Ejstes' forlorn vocals and plaintive acoustic strums. The title track is pretty nifty as well, balancing out a piano-led singer-songwriter confessional with bridges full tightly woven guitar heroics that demand an open-air stadium to be fully appreciated.

And while much is made of Dungen's connection with great psyche and pop purveyors of yore, there is a strong enough undercurrent of '70s soft-rock (think AM Gold) running throughout the disc to give one cause for pause. Maybe, just maybe, making a record like Ta Det Lugnt ain't that hard - and that leaves me feeling a little uneasy.

Of course, any inherent problems with a piece of music can almost always be overlooked by its point of entry from a foreign country. This is even doubly true when lyrics are in a foreign language as well. In this instance, it allows one to easily overlook some of the dippy, adolescent rhyme patterns and turns of phrase (which, granted, may have lost something significant in translation). Were this a band from New York on Island Records singing forlornly in English, well, then I'm inclined to argue that the reaction would be much less significant. It will always be easier to look at something favorably when compared against a tradition from which it did not stem.

I'm not arguing that Ta Det Lugnt should be discounted or ignored, and Ejstes is a major talent capable of leading the listener down wholly worthwhile paths. The problem is that these very same paths are entirely too threadbare for my tastes. A good piece of music shouldn't inspire an initial reflex to compare; that should, perhaps, come much later in the listening experience. That cannot be said of Ta Det Lugnt, unfortunately. "Sluta Folja Efter," the album’s final track, translates loosely as "Quit Following After." That's a sentiment I hope Gustav Ejstes will heed more closely on future recordings.

By Michael Crumsho

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