The manic take on Stoogeian dynamics by Sweden’s Union Carbine Productions was meltdown beautiful: exultant, sinister, ragged cacophony. The yelping, fingers-in-toaster guitar smash-ups, the blocking out of common sense — music as deranged and as eerie and as jagged as rock can be, a sonic equivalent of Dresden after the bombings.
The Soundtrack of Our Lives is culled from that inferno. But lead singer Ebbot Lundberg and guitarist Björn Olsson — while retaining the raging live shows, Viking (by way of Vangelis) costumes and love for arena-scaled theatricality — have switched tactics: they have become encyclopedists, not imitators, of all that is fine and good about ’60s rock: Love, the Who, Buffalo Springfield and other greats who preferred their tom toms loudly banged across the room, their dense, swirling music singable in Scandinavian showers, with songs of glorious quietude to connect to real lives at real moments. TSOOL wants to rock your world — past, present and future.
On the superlative Welcome to the Infant Freebase, Åke Karl Kalle Gustafsson’s sturdy, swinging bass prevents rhythmic mishaps; Martin Hederos’s trilly, pulsating keyboard work adds trippy , brash color to the dense theater; Olsson’s guitar is proof positive that liquid and melodic string attacks — more borrowed from jazz riffing than fuzzy freakout innovators — are the cornerstone of the band’s burgeoning softness. Lundberg’s singing, once a lethal weapon that could frighten the unsuspecting and addled, is now pitch perfect with TSOOL’s rediscovery of whimsical, circular, prog/psyche overtures. On such compositionally voluptuous items as “Endless Song” and “Underground Indian,” the band achingly vamps over tried and true chordal rehashing (Jefferson Airplane, Pretty Things) and makes them new by superior technique and true emotion. But just when you thought it was safe to visit the vicar, the band lets loose — tired of burgundy, they soon hit the harder stuff on “Confrontation Camp,” with full-bodied harmonies, muscular chords and economic blasts of effortless harshness. It’s a wonder they keep the damn tunes in key. Blasts of violence, whimsical flights of druggy backbeat rhythms — either way, their first album rocks with intense good times.
The same personnel, the same perfected ripeness, the same production and engineering aesthetic of fullness and aggressive crowdedness, the same avidity for capturing in fleeting moments the fresh sounds that astonish all inform the more mature and accomplished Extended Revelation. The borrowings here are even more audacious: mid-period Byrds and early Stone Roses; pretty melodies thrown against a stormy twilight sky. The guitar work is inward, dreamy, angsty but never menacing — the rudiments of soul and hope eke out of every guitar climax. The songs’ individual nuances revolve around dramatic pauses, tiny arenas of drama and surprise. The melodies poke around, often not fully milked; the ballads are full-fledged weepers, the sonic rompers always wallop. The stars here, oddly enough for such an incendiary live band, are the studio and Lundberg’s increasingly multi- dimensional voice. He bends and stretches, speaks with matter-of-fact detachment and sings with controlled abandon. Part of the renewed vigor, in addition to the prime sourcing of Love’s psychy acoustic dramas, is in the songs’ relative brevity. This is the sextet’s most ’60s work — alternate fast and slow tracks, aching vocal harmonies, splashy guitar entrances and quirky stereophonic manipulations.
By the great third album, Behind the Music, the band is completely at ease in the studio. If they lacked confidence in effects and tonal ambiguities on the first, the second was certainly a step in the right direction. There, Olsson’s guitar and his instrumental mirror, Hederos’ rarified keyboards, were richer and fuller, never sacrificing the emotional core of the expressive lyricism of Lundberg’s vocals. Here, what was a blunt instrument meant to bludgeon the unsuspecting, is a voice of tenderness and pathos. There is a terrible honesty to the proceedings. No better example of rock music’s abilty to swing between supple gesture and sledgehammer drama exists in music today. The opening song of Behind the Music, “Infra Riot,” with its cascading bent notes, punishing riffs and cavestomp drumming, underscores TSOOL’s aim, now and then: tear the roof off, suckers, and then blow up the houses next door. This is a benchmark song. Ian Person’s guitar notes regale with hyperbolic grandeur; the singing is anthemic, but exhausted and resigned. Elsewhere on the album cool, languid detachment is conflated with dense, ingenious constructions. This is music that represents the now while deferring to the then.
Origin Vol. 1, part of a possible triptych, is solid and diverse if slightly lacking the gorgeous full- bodied melodies of its predecessor. Not that it plods — there are fresh twists everywhere. The fervent psychobilly underpinning on “Believe I’ve Found” both startles and spooks. Hellacopters’ able guitarist Mattias Bärjed brings a more lyrical style to the proceedings: “Transcendental Suicide” and the FM- friendly “Wheels of Boredom” serve a reminder that TSOOL is never far from ’60s poppiness, replete with singalong choruses, meaty hooks and functional bridges. This music cooks. Two standouts are the enigmatic “Midnight Children,” a duet with famed French anti-chanteuse Jane Birkin, heavy sighing and all, and “Mother One Track Mind,” on which the band gleefully re-visits its Stooges/Seger/MC 5 roots: an oft-told tale than can’t be told enough. Like their American models, TSOOL start with the resource of the bravura vocalist and merge it with flamboyant wah wahs., creatively exploiting the eternal genius of three chords.
The EPS, especially the two early imports, are hard to find, but worth trying: Gimme Five! has five new songs; Homo Hablis Blues three. Each contains dense and well-earned furtherings of TSOOL’s various angles — enlightening, moving and often acoustic-driven feverdom. The cream of the crop is Sister Surround. The title track is a cruncher from the third album, but the others sparkle with truth and confrontation: the insouciant “Not Kinda Worried,” the churning “News of the World,” the wistful “We’ll Get By” and the finest, “Lost Highway,” not the moving Payne/Hank Williams song but an original that is also a plaintive wail of loneliness. With menacing background coloring, a quiet slipping of the chords, and singing that seems far away, this is loneliness waiting for the Swedish sky to turn bright again.