Third album from Swedish rockers is a pretty dull affair
The Amazing are a Swedish quintet who play a type of meandering lite-rock that is, for some reason, billed as “psychedelic”, perhaps because “psychedelic” sounds more interesting than “meandering lite-rock”. There is little to suggest psychedelia here: no studio wizardry or unexpected sounds or extreme swings in dynamics or time signatures or — well, anything, really. The band’s prevailing sound consists of acoustic and electric guitars coalescing into a pleasant but undemanding sonic stew, underpinned by syrupy bass and tight drumming. Wispy vocals float over it all. Nothing wrong with any of that; nothing particularly innovative, either.
This isn’t to say that Gentle Stream is a bad album. There are a number of OK songs here, mixed in with less-memorable material. It’s just that the “psychedelic” tag is confusing, being used as it it mean, apparently, “music that might remind you of music made when people were also listening to psychedelia”.
Whatever. There is a strong retro feel here, with the breathy vocals and laid-back guitar noodling calling to mind anyone from CSN to James Taylor, while the occasional electric-guitar crescendoes reach for Crazy Horse-levels of climax (and don’t quite reach them). Album opener “Gentle Stream” is easily the best song on the record, with its murky stew of guitars and a chord structure strongly reminiscent of Neil Young’s “Down By the River”. At seven minutes long, it’s got plenty of time to build and grow into something genuinely powerful, as the listener gets seduced by the mellow washes of sound before being sucked into the hypnotically rhythmic undertow.
Unfortunately, this opening salve is also the band’s best shot. While some other songs hint at their potential, there is too much that is just too watery and dull to be compelling. “Flashlight” contains a memorable, repetitive flute line but not much else, while “Dogs” overcomes a sluggish start to put those howling guitars to good use by the end. It’s another long one — 6:39 this time — which suggests this is a band that knows how to construct a song that can build over several minutes into something compelling.
Little else fits this description, though. Even after a dozen listens, it’s hard to call to mind songs like “International Hair” or “When the Colours Change”, which sacrifice melody for ambience and wind up with neither. Or “The Fog”, which makes the mistake of piling too much emphasis on singer Christoffer Gunrup’s voice, which is not up to the task. Ultimately, the mellow-layered-upon-mellow makes for too many songs that lack any type of muscle, either instrumental, vocal or lyrical. Tempos are another Achilles heel for the band, as most of the album’s nine songs fall into a mid-to-slow tempo range that causes songs to blur together even more than they already do. Dynamics range from moderate to quiet, with a few exceptions.
It’s possible that fans of mellow, laid-back rock will savor this album, but overall, lethargy overwhelms inventiveness on all but a handful of tracks. It’s also possible that there is psych-rock revolution on the horizon, and even that it could grow out of Sweden. This record, though, is not the harbinger of any such.