[23 January 2007]
In future times, cultural historians will marvel at just how drastically and irrevocably the music business changed in the first six years of the new millennia. Downloads are supplanting tangible media, artists are virtually doing their own PR via networking websites, and relatively inexpensive software enables anyone with a PC to produce and post music online from the comfort of their own bedroom. If the Beatles were around today they wouldn’t have to bother with poorly paid gigging in grimy Hamburg dance halls for years before they got a record deal. They could just convene at Paul or John’s house, record a few tracks, post them on MySpace, and wait for the labels to start sniffing around. Of course the increasing democratization of the process still ultimately requires a degree of quality and competence in the final product, but there’s no doubt that the doors are open wider than ever for those who feel they’ve got something to offer. Recently artists as diverse as Lily Allen, Dizzee Rascal, and Sandi Thom have all utilized DIY recording and internet generated hype to startling critical and/or commercial success. As Principal Skinner said, “The times they are… becoming quite different.”
The debut album by Swedish duo Suburban Kids with Biblical Names (the unwieldy epithet a direct quote from the Silver Jews’ classic “People”) is both a product of, and sometimes a paean to, this burgeoning DIY ethic. It is also a delightfully fun, hook-laden and thoroughly entertaining collection of left-field laptop-pop. Comprised of Johan Hedberg and Peter Gunnarson, their music is rehearsed and recorded in the storehouse at Gunnarson’s parents’ and is packed full of eclectic surprises and willfully nerdy, self-deprecating lyrics. The title #3 refers to the fact that this album combines tracks already released on two not-widely-available EPs alongside new material. Imagine a combination of Kings of Convenience and They Might Be Giants with a dash of early Beck and you are someway towards an approximation of their sound.
“Loop Duplicate My Heart” gives a good indication of what these guys are all about. Over skittering electronic beats, 10cc-esque whooshes of keyboards, and handclaps we get a delightful hymn to the emancipating delights of home recording, occasionally delivered in a deadpan Scott Walker-style croon. I can’t think of many love songs that are addressed to a PC but this is definitely one, and it’s great. Lines like “I found a reason for not going out tonight / I’m making out tonight / With my computer” might suggest an adolescent “nudge nudge, wink wink” allusion to internet porn, but the passion expressed here is directed solely towards music recording software. “I’m putting guitars on hold / And my multitrack on surround” and “So many interesting effects / I wanna try them all on you” are delivered with heartfelt emotion. Lyrics aside, the duo create a lush and expansive sound that is mightily impressive, though, I suspect, the self-referential nature of the song may annoy some. It shouldn’t, because ultimately this is joyous, inventive music about the process of making joyous and inventive music, and it’s rare to hear such unfettered and articulate passion these days.
There is also a defiantly whimsical Belle and Sebastian-ish air about many of the predominantly autobiographical songs on the album. “Parakit” is sweet and light with a melancholy nostalgia for the laziness of youth: “I used to roam the streets on skateboards with cheap beer / A little punk / Hallelujah.” The gentle piano lilt of “Trees and Squirrels” contains the line: “That silly night I did the Macarena / With someone named Carita.” These songs elevate the minutiae of teenage experience to major epiphanies with a commendable amount of charm and humor. By the end of “Noodles” you almost feel you know these guys intimately, such is the guileless frankness of their songs. Feeling awkward at a party is surely as universal an experience as one can get and there is a lovely moment in the song which concerns the benefits of passing out from over-indulgence: “What matters is I don’t have to talk about the weather / With some DJ dude with his shiny boots of leather.”
“Peters Dream” contains a riff that sounds like something from a Spaghetti Western and a chorus that consists simply of “blah, blah, blah, blah.” “Seems to be on my Mind” is an acoustic punk sing-a-long containing the wise adage: “Spending my quality time with my TV / Is the last thing I should do.” “Little Boys in the Ghetto” features feral sounding human-beat box à la Tom Waits’ “Top of the Hill”. All are effortlessly ambitious and well executed, not to mention downright catchy.
Granted a few of the songs, like the opener “Marry Me”, teeter on the precipice of twee-ness; and those looking for real emotional depth in the lyrics will not find any as this duo are too busy having fun and cracking jokes at their own expense. But I listened to #3unable to suppress a smile that practically lasted for its entire duration. Any group that makes the bizarre assertion that there is “a Falcon Crest side to everything” has got be worth an hour of your time, surely.