More of the same from the Swedish folk quartet, Amandine. There’s nothing wrong with this: Amandine’s spare pop-folk sounds, gently accompanied by strings or muted brass or mellotron, are softly-observed, pretty pieces that can’t for the life of them annoy—on the contrary, it’s entirely conventional songwriting that doesn’t fail to rip out your heart.
It’s just that there are other bands out there that do this so much better. We’ve come to expect folk groups to add or change something from the old formula, as with the whole freak-folk thing. Then we have bands like Augie March, who… well let’s just say if you think you might like Amandine, you must grab a copy of AM’s Sunset Studies as it surpasses the former band on every level, from the sophistication of the songwriting to the lyrical poetry.
Leave Out the Sad Parts is an 18-minute US-only EP, released to coincide with the group’s American tour. It contains one song from their debut This Is Where Our Hearts Collide, two songs from European seven-inches, and two unreleased songs. But the tenor of the disc is much the same as that debut, drifting between hushed beauty and that of a slightly (just slightly) more upbeat variety.
The group’s four members are accompanied by a large cast of helpers on this release, though their contributions are so tip-toe-cautious you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell just by listening to the music. But for completeness’ sake, strings, trumpet, trombone, and mellotron/organ all join the core drums/bass/piano/guitar sound at one point or another.
Amandine’s soft music has always had a touch of country in it—maybe it’s the 3/4 time signatures, maybe the particular way that Olof Gidlof strums his banjo. In any case, the music seems more evocative of the wide expanses of the American Midwest (or that from Nick Cave’s movie The Proposition) than my conception of Sweden’s geography. But let’s not forget the strong foundation of pop music that underlies Amandine’s music. It’s clear in the way songs are constructed, with standard verse-chorus-verse structures; in the way high-flying choruses dominate the character of each song; in the familiarity of the chord changes. Speaking of which, can someone tell me where the chords in “Between What He’s Saying and What He Regrets” come from? It’s been bugging me for days.
Gidlof’s voice sounds strained on the opening “Firefly” and it’s not altogether an asset to the prettiness of the arrangement. I keep wanting to hear the edgeless smoothness of Ollie Browne from Art of Fighting, but Amandine are a little too organic for that. It’s not a big criticism. The vocal lines use the grainy, up-reaching quality of Gidlof’s voice to cement an easily recognizable sound.
In truth, most of these criticisms fade when you’re listening to Leave Out the Sad Parts. “Firefly” creates a soft, weaving-around-you campfire atmosphere; “Between What He’s Saying and What He Regrets”, despite its familiarity, is so precariously beautiful you feel the music about to break in two. When the slow-burn chorus of “Union Falls” enters it’s impossible to resist. But Sparrow, an attempt at more of the up-beat, misses the mark: despite the touch of distortion added to the guitar, there’s no bite. Compare with “This Train Is Taking No Passengers” from Augie March and you’ll see what I mean.
You get the impression, post-listen, that this EP is so titled because if you didn’t leave out the sad parts, the group would buckle under the weight of the sorrow of the world. It’s a nice conceit, one that fits will with the band’s slow-falling, depressive folk-country ballads. You won’t be missing out if you’ve never heard Amandine; but you will probably enjoy the experience if you do.