[13 November 2008]
You wouldn’t think it, but Fredrik’s Na Na Ni is one hell of a running record. What’s that? You say that this kind of cotton-candy pop is for daydreaming, for lazying around the house, for thinking about the one that got away? Fair enough. But Fredrik, a six-piece band out of Malmö, Sweden, has laced its tunes with insistent, prickly rhythms. The staccato scrub of guitar, the stomp of feet, the clang of bells, it all works as architecture for these gentle, wistful tunes, and it’s regular as a metronome. You could set your pace to this record and knock the miles off like clockwork, every one perfectly in time with the other.
There is, in fact, an almost mechanical precision to the way these songs are played and arranged, a hint of inorganic exactness in the repeated sounds and rhythms. The voice, soft and vulnerable, floats atop a junkyard choir of percussion, the swell and subsiding of cello, the regular pulse of progress. And so, unlike many pop bands, Fredrik allows you no time for stasis, meandering or self-pity. The songs work on a forward trajectory. They crest into gentle climaxes, reaching an effortless kind of joy, before melting back into the beat. These are songs, not for staying in bed all day, but for throwing back the curtains, having a big stretch and rushing out into the sunshine. It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it? Why mope around?
Fredrik is a new project from Fredrik and Lindefelt, two Swedish songwriters ex of the Lovekevins (and, later, the LK). Fredrik plays acoustic and electric guitars. Lindefelt plays banjo and accordion. Both sing. For this album, they are augmented by a cello player (Anja), a bass player (Jerker) and a drummer (Mikael). None of them is willing to divulge a last name. Probably a tax dodge.
Anyway, you might hear bits of Tunng in these tunes, in the way that they seamlessly unite electronic samplings with real, flesh-and-blood sounds, folk melodies with electronic beats, melancholy whispers with inexpressible optimism. You might hear a hint of the one-man pop symphonies of Radical Face, especially in the exquisite opening song, “Black Fur”. This cut, by far the best on the disc, starts in a wordless hum, the throb of cello under, the rattle of tambourine and foot stomps underneath. It’s the kind of song that welcomes you in, so glad to see you, so happy you’re going to be part of all this. It would do, at a pinch, for the opening credits of some children’s television show, where all the creatures skip through forests, knocking on doors and joyfully increasing their numbers. (Yes, I am thinking of HR Puffenstuff, and no, the song doesn’t actually sound like the theme.) It cannot help but make you feel happy, calm and ready to get on, and that’s all to the good… there are nine more songs here.
“Alina’s Place” comes next. It is earthier and more pop, still scratching and shuffling and scraping a rhythm, still constructing clouds of gentle vocal melodies over top. I’m not quite sure what it’s about, there are lyrics about kids running around and emperors and a dress code, but it doesn’t matter. You simply follow the surge and ebb of guitar and drums, glockenspiel and strings. You rattle on at a steady pace, and pause to marvel at the sweet concoctions of harmony as you pass by.
Words seem secondary here. The title track, after all, is called “Na Na Ni”, and its title makes up the majority of the lyrics as well. There are even purely wordless cuts like “Angora Sleepwalking”, all clipped, terse guitar notes and tonal percussion, the sort of song you wind up like a toy robot and set marching across the kitchen floor. And yet even without words, without vocal melodies, these songs set a mood of joyful intention, of striving towards happiness. Fredrik conjures a clockwork world of steady effort, regular progress, and not infrequent moments of beauty. Given all that, it is no surprise that Na Na Ni makes such a welcome companion for long runs, though it would probably work without a workout, as well.