I’ve always felt that a rock song should do one of three things: rock, groove, or lilt. If it doesn’t achieve one of those three objectives—or, if it’s really good, a combination—it probably isn’t worthy of the spot in your CD player. This, I realize, is a gross oversimplification, but it’s intended to be. After listening to the Perishers’ EP Sway, however, I am forced to add a fourth objective—lull—which is exactly what the band’s songs do. Their music feels like the bittersweet timelessness of a Sunday afternoon drive, when life seems both permanent and simultaneously slipping away from you. This is to say that the Perishers avoid the obvious route of overwhelming through bombast; rather, they overwhelm through a subtle accumulation of nuance, melody, and texture, burrowing into the psyche rather than provoking a response from the body. An initial listen to their music encourages little more than another listen, but the cumulative effect of repeated listens leave you in a reflective, melancholy spell, somehow longing for more.
The Perishers hail from northern Sweden, and lead singer Ola Klüft attributes his entrancing songwriting to his environment. “In the north the winters are very, very long and cold and dark,” Klüft notes. “It affects me a lot… we write songs that creep into you and stay there.” Indeed, a somber yet faintly hopeful mood pervades Sway, a collection of five songs from the band’s new full-length release, Let There Be Morning. The title of the full-length album in itself is symbolic, evoking images of both painful demise and the hope of rebirth. The songs on this EP are similar, displaying the intricate and inextricable connection between grief and hope, and how these emotions relate to love. Klüft’s lyrics are no doubt also affected by the fact that English is his second language, which results in the unexpected blessing of phrasing things in a direct yet masked manner. “I can hide behind the English words,” Klüft confesses, “in a way that I can’t hide behind Swedish words.”
The sound of the Perishers is understated and soft, nearly minimal. Likewise, the instrumental lineup is also restrained, consisting of the basics: guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums. Instead of opting for a wide variety of instruments, the band chooses to focus on the raw musical elements, most notably melody. Title track “Sway” begins with keyboardist Martin Gustafson playing a chiming piano melody that repeats itself until Klüft sings, “I talk to you just like a friend / I hope that’s what you’ve come to be / It feels as though we’ve made amends…”. His voice is a blend of rasps and whispers, rarely rising or straining, which suits the overall lullaby feel of the song. Keeping the light, airy song from drifting away are bassist Pehr Åström and drummer Thomas Hedlund, who are wise enough to know that restraint is often the best way to show off one’s musical skill.
Each of the songs on Sway follows a similar pattern: repeating instrumental melody, whispered singing, and hushed instrumentation. Rather than sounding repetitive or boring, though, this pattern provides the songs a hypnotic quality. “My Heart” blends the soft, jaunty aesthetic of ‘70s rock radio with the swirling guitar lines of ‘80 new wave. Once again, the lyrics are direct, yet somehow vague: “If you feel like I feel / And if you know what I know / Don’t think you’d ever play me / I know you’d never play me”. While the narrator’s words appear self-assured, the tone in Klüft’s voice gives the song an ominous feel, as if the narrator is more likely trying to convince himself of a lie. “When I Wake Up Tomorrow” captures the hollow yet comforting feeling of resignation that comes from accepting defeat. While a piano limps forward and drums barely keep pace, Klüft sings, “If everything’s the same when I wake up tomorrow / I’m giving up”. Later, in a deadpan croon, he muses “December came today, and I’m just as bored as ever”. The narrator’s apathetic reaction to his own misery truly captures and conveys the feeling of bottoming out.
The Perishers might not be doing anything innovative or revolutionary, but their songs are nonetheless captivating. Together, they show what a band is capable of doing by focusing on the basics and avoiding lush production, computer gadgetry, and pointless spectacle. Sway probably won’t generate much buzz, simply because it is a collection of focused, muted tunes. However, should you buy this EP, you will become very familiar with the songs; if you don’t revisit them, they will certainly revisit you.