Apparently, nothing good ever comes out of America these days. If you want to get your prime music, you can look to any sort of exotic foreign place and get some tunes from Canada (where the Arcade Fire and the entire Broken Social Scene collective reside), from Scotland (where beloved riff-rockers Franz Ferdinand were born and bred), or—of course—from England, where there’s a brand new band every single week that will rock your world until they’re forgotten just a few days later. Oh, and you can’t forget about Sweden. The notorious ABBA-loving country has birthed the occasional offering of undeniable pop bliss, most recently (and notably) the too-brilliant-for-his-own-good Jens Lekman.
Thus the scene is set for a little pop act called David & the Citizens—a group of hey-nonny Swedish popsters who, at least according to their press release, have already conquered Scandinavia and Europe, scoring a hit with a ditty called “Song Against Life”, as well as winning the Swedish Grammy for Best Pop Group. Yet, despite all of this joy (and despite the fact that all of their songs are sung entirely in English), they have never had a US distribution deal up to this point. On an interesting side note, the titular David Fridlund had his 2005 solo album, Amaterasu, released on Hidden Agenda in the States, and scored an indie-blog hit with his extended cover of the saddest Nick Cave song ever written: “Into My Arms” (though, for the record, the original is far superior).
In steps Friendly Fire Recordings, having already signed the band and waiting for the release of the 2006 full-length, Until the Sadness Is Gone. As an appetite-whetter and buzz-builder, the label put forth this six-song self-titled EP, culling a kind of “best of” of their last few records and a few hard-to-find tracks. Their press release describes them as “Belle & Sebastian minus the twee,” but the New Pornographers sans the electrical instruments seems like a better choice.
One can’t hear opener “Greycoated Morning” without thinking of the favorite power-pop group of late. Thankfully, Fridlund proves an apt and energetic singer, his personality overflowing on lines like “You watch the sun make another lap / Then fall into this gap of nothingness / Where everything’s prefab / And everything’s dead / And every little thing gets inside your head”. The song is energetic and joyous, but not exactly infectious. It’s one of those songs where all the elements are in place, but it just doesn’t 100% click. You certainly won’t hate it or turn it off if you caught it on your radio dial, but when you go to bed at night it’s not exactly going to be a melody clawing at the inside of your skull.
This problem is what plagues the Citizens’ whole EP—goodness but not greatness. “Big Chill” kicks things up a notch and adds a helping of rock bass to up the ante, while “Let Me Put It This Way” is quirky and fun, but doesn’t throw any major curveballs at you (though it does sport some sweet keyboard backings on the handclap chorus). Their plight isn’t exactly helped when the two weakest tracks on the album are tacked onto the end. “Let’s Not Fall Apart” is so painfully close to being a They Might Be Giants song that you’re almost tempted to hit Dial-A-Song all over again, and “Summer Is No-Man’s-Land” could be easily mistaken for Blues Traveler caught selling tickets outside the Generic Pop Song Festival. The lyrics prove to be quirky enough, but not given a completely polished focus.
That is, until you hear “Now She Sleeps in a Box in the Good Soil of Denmark”. Despite its overly long title, Fridlund throws out one helluva opening zinger: “And this necklace of question marks beautifully framing your face / As you walk through a tunnel closer to something / Turning back home after 15 years and it seems / That perhaps you will miss the man no-one is watching”. This is all laid out over a stream of furiously strummed acoustic guitars and paints a powerful portrait of disillusionment, making it a powerful and propulsive song at the same time. Yes, this alone is enough reason to own this EP, and yes, Friendly Fire would be wise to release this as a single.
The problem with compilations is always the same: you’re not getting everything that’s brilliant. Sometimes, this is a ploy used by record labels, just so you get that one song you really want. Most major hit compilations are missing key elements (Peter Gabriel’s Hit lacks “Sledgehammer”, R.E.M.‘s Best of inexplicably lacks “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”). Even Robbie Williams’ US introduction, The Ego Has Landed, lacks some of the better tracks off of his UK debut. David & the Citizens’ introduction to America may lack their hit “Song Against Life”, but you still feel a bit shorted—surely there could be some better songs on their albums. Yet the EP does establish one thing: a lot of promise. This is definitely a band to keep your eye on. Somehow, sometime, and somewhere, they will do something absolutely brilliant… and it’ll be memorable for more than a week.