Earlier in the year, I got to review the US debut release of Swedish power-pop group David & the Citizens, and was left with a good taste in my mouth. They were blatantly fun, but occasionally riding a line of genericism—a fate that befalls most young bands and is basically to be expected. However, what kept me coming back was a song so good I’d call it a classic if only more people had heard it: “Now She Sleeps in a Box in the Good Soil of Denmark”—utterly breathtaking. In any other case, one would be ready to write them off, but their sense of whimsy, and leader David Fridlund’s fantastic lyrics hinted that there might be something more behind this group.
Now that Until the Sadness Is Gone is here (their first full-length release in the States), one can say that, yeah, there’s a lot more to David & the Citizens.
For anyone familiar with the Citizens’ eponymous EP, a huge shock awaits: the New Pornographers cross-bred with Belle & Sebastian sound is, for the most part, gone. As a matter of fact, the most A.C. Newman-aping moments are the only carry-overs from the EP: the bouncy “Greycoated Morning” and the less-inspiring “Let’s Not Fall Apart”—songs that are both good, but not spectacular. In all fairness, they remain the two weakest moments on what is an otherwise fantastic full-length. Opener “The End” commands attention with rain-pelt drum falls and accordion tears laid over train-track acoustic guitars. It’s a helluva start.
Musically, there aren’t any songs where the hooks absolutely linger in your head after one listen, but that doesn’t mean it’s not catchy music. “Long Day” is a pleasant experience all around, and “Silverjacketgirl” is just begging for some inferior ska band to rip off the melody. Yet, David & the Citizens aren’t really entirely about the music (though it is quite good). It’s Fridlund’s lyrics that ultimately stay around long after the party has moved on. From “Sore Feet + Blisters”, the album’s mellowest moment:
Streets like a chessboard
We’re checkmate and that is all
Step into the sunlight and do something
About this suicide view
There’s something simple and understated about his lyrical dexterity. The not-in-sync-with-the-music ramblings of “Silverjacketgirl” (“I know you feel like there‘s nothing to feel / But that‘s the biggest lie of the day”) recall some budget-end Michael Stipe—which is meant in the most positive of connotations. His voice is plain and simple, almost Everyman in nature, but still a presence. When he mournfully screeches out “But no one’s gonna tell you you’re not perfect” for the first time on closer “As You Fall (I Watch with Love)”, one can’t help but feel the heartstrings get a powerful tug. Same goes for the zinger “Don’t marry a picture that you could never be” from the orchestral ocean that is “On All-American Winds”. It’s powerful stuff, and stuff you rarely find in All-American music these days.
The album is tail-ended by two pretty good bonus tracks (“Glued to the Light” and the much-better “Betina”), but those are just add-ons to a fantastic American debut. When you drop something as joyous as power pop, you better have something good to fill in its place. Fortunately for David & the Citizens, they have the perfect fill-in: music with heart.