A crashing wall of guitar sound a la Soundgarden or Mettalica segues effortlessly into Celtic-sounding fiddle music. Whining wah-wah and power drumming are blended with accordian and fiddle polka, to which is then added pixie voices chanting lyrics in who-knows-what language. Waltzes and folk tunes for a Scandanavian country wedding as interpreted by Jimmie Page! Head-banging Swedish fiddle tunes! What’s not to like?
Over the past six years, Sweden’s Hoven Droven have reinvigorated two of the more cliche ridden forms of popular music—folk and guitar rock. This is a potentially disasterous pairing. But like some odd game of chicken in which the fiery crash of two stubborn opponents leads not to mangled and singed flesh but to the birth of something new and powerful, rising phoenix-like from the smouldering heap of twisted Volvos, Hoven Droven have made something weird and beautiful at the fatal intersection of fiddle and electric guitar. After listening to this disc a number of times, nothing could seem more natural than the marriage of testosterone-driven guitar licks circa 1975 with the lilting, gentle cadence of traditional folk music. Why has no one ever done this before? Maybe it’s only from the perspective of Sweden that the connections can seem so clear and obvious.
More Happy Moments with Hoven Droven builds on the band’s established formula (which North American audiences first got to hear in 1997’s Groove) by adding a Hammond organ and vocals to the mix for the first time. The vocals are essential to keeping things going. Most of the album is strictly instrumental, and while it’s cool to hear this strange hybrid form for the first time, the rock/folk motifs underlying the Hoven Droven’s music starts to wear thin by the end of the album. The sudden interjection of vocals seems to keep things focused and prevents the music from becoming too flat, too mushy, too all-the-same. Too much of even a new thing can start to become boring.
There’s a warning to be read here that I hope Hoven Droven is smart enough to heed before they put out their next album. Bands that rely on a single formula, however smart and innovative, can also die by that formula. Morphine figured out that they didn’t have to stick to bass-sax-drums in time to make Mark Sandman’s last CD one of their best. Here’s hoping that Hoven Droven is willing to add even more levels and registers to their sound so that they can continue in their quest to finally give Swedish pop a good name.