Swedish Band "Refuse" to Rock Like They Once Did
In the mid 1990s, there was a band called Refused. With their high intensity music and politically charged lyrics, the Umea, Sweden band proved to be an extremely influential act, the influence only realized after their demise in 1998 (just ask Angels & Airwaves’ Tom Delonge). Refused was lumped into the “punk rock” category for reasons that are still incomprehensible. Their crunchy guitars, music-nerd-like technical rhythms and constant screaming suggested comparisons to Limp Bizkit and Korn rather than the Clash and the Sex Pistols (remember, this was the mid ‘90s).
In 1999, a year after the band disbanded, lead singer Dennis Lyxzen got together a bunch of his friends and decided to have another go at this music thing. This time, he would call his band the (International) Noise Conspiracy and take a decidedly much softer approach at getting his communist political views heard.
30,000 records have sold, and the problem remains the same. They are still getting lumped into the category of punk-rock band. Regardless of their slots on Warped Tour and those constant politically charged lyrics, the (International) Noise Conspiracy’s punk-rock label seems harder to justify than Lyxzen’s previous band, Refused.
It becomes even harder to slap the “punk” label on them when confronted with the band’s latest release, Live at Oslo Jazz Festival. On this, an album that was only available to American fans as an import for the past three years, the (International) Noise Conspiracy is joined by Swedish jazz saxophone giant Jonas Kullhammar and accomplished guitarist Sven Eric-Dahlberg to make 10 songs from their first two full-lengths, Survival Sickness and A New Morning, Changing Weather, sound slightly more interesting than they already did.
Clocking in at 57:42, Live sounds like one big song. While only one track spans nearly 10 minutes, each of the other nine don’t eclipse the five-minute mark. The problem with that lies with the constant feeling that each song seems like it should be no shorter than 12 minutes. When looking at the CD player thinking you are going to see something like 14:26 next to the track number, you realize you are not much further along in the song than two and a half minutes. Simply put, it’s like an annoying attempt at a jam band album, one which finishes two hours too short and has the word “punk” around it.
That said, Kullhammar is the sun the shines through the entire black-clouded disc. His work on Live’s opening track, “New Empire Blues”, brings a pop element that turns a melancholy diatribe into something happy. More so on “Bigger Cages Longer Chains”, the album’s best track; here the Swedish Grammy Nominee makes an aggressive rock band sound surprisingly funky.
Organ player Sara Almgren only helps Kulhammar. Tracks like “Survival Sickness” and “A Body Treatise” couldn’t even survive without Almgren’s work. Without it, these songs would make the (International) Noise Conspiracy sound more like the crappy garage band down the street, the one that won’t stop practicing, and less like the kind of late-‘60s-era classic rock that every 35- to 55-year-old loves to listen to, on the one classic rock radio station that still exists ain their town. It’s a wonder why she isn’t in the band anymore.
Regardless of Kullhammar and Almgren’s colorful work, there is no denying the album’s boring, preachy undertone. From the indirect shot at America on the whiny “Capitalism Stole My Virginity” to the simplistic “Ever Felt Cheated”, it becomes more and more clear that Lyxzen would have had a better shot at creating another red scare with his former band rather than with this, a band that seemingly has three chords, two patterns and one way to put them together.
It’s not that the album is genuinely bad, because it’s not even close. There is a certain, though not immense, level of musicianship shown throughout the effort, and the two guest musicians certainly make the (International) Noise Conspiracy’s songs more ambient, creating a palpable mood throughout the show. For instance, “Smash It Up” sounds like it could have been recorded in 1971 and put on a shelf right next to anything the Doors ever did.
Maybe the (International) Noise Conspiracy should consider bringing back Almgren and hiring Kulhammar on as a full-time member. Or maybe they should hop in a time machine and have their try at the 1960s. At least in that case, they wouldn’t have to worry about the word “punk,” they would still have their shot at having communism take over the world and, most importantly, maybe people would care.