If you want to revive the sounds of downtown New York’s new-wave clubbers of the late 70s and early 80s, follow these five Swedes. On their third release, they turn, despite their press release, not towards David Gilmour, but closer to David Johansen. Swaggering vocals, the insistent yet lighthearted beats, the combination of angst and ease: these characterize The Horror The Horror.
This album prefers a slightly unsteady tone. Few songs leap out of the bright mix at first. They lurk as grooves. “Feel It” recalls Kid Creole and the Coconuts with its dash of world beats, but most tracks prefer a mid-tempo shuffle under vocals that recall such as Huey Lewis in his pop mode, a comparison I’m not sure the band seeks. The tunes aim for an accessible, glossy, radio-friendly approach. They also want to contain the more sinister, uncertain feel of an urban attitude. Do they have the chops for both?
The title track starts off in a familiar fashion for anybody who’s heard New York bands the past 10 years who listen to New York bands of the past 30 years. Swirling guitars, peppy drums, “ah ah hunh” choruses, rousing riffs: this opener aligns with many songs that aspire to this style stateside. “Honestly” leans towards a crooning, streetwise beat; “Vanity” reveals in spite or due to the title a slight accent from Scandinavia within the American register preferred as the vocal approach.
Joel Lindstrom is credited with vocals, along with two guitarists, Mattias Axelsson and Johan Jansson. Their voices tend towards a confessional appeal, a plaintive tone recalling The Strokes and other bands of a decade ago who sought to capture this same city, this same period. The challenge faced by contemporary musicians admiring the sounds of 30 years ago remains how to avoid imitating their influences. This album never makes a wrong move, but its consistency over nearly every track also shows the risks of too careful a tread upon hallowed grounds of Gotham.
Patrick Thorngren on bass and guitar and Jacob Frodell on drums add to what on paper seems much like a rich lineup. They can sound slick, as on “Believe in Magic” or “Submission”, but this also nears the predictability of a romantic comedy’s theme, or a car commercial’s soundtrack. The twin-guitar and rhythm section combine more often for mood than energy. Still, the glimmers of promising echoes that end “The Forest” glimpse at more atmospheric textures too rare on this shiny record.
The band stays often in the shadows while Lindstrom steps out. “Move It!” and “Imbecile” demonstrate with massed backing vocal tracks and insistent structure their intention: to take the tinge of “white R&B” vocals layered on classic rock sprinkled with new-wave sheen. This sultry set of melodies may suit those the morning after a night on the town. But it may not get many to dance the night away before that blowsy morning after.
“Out of Here” expresses welcome tension. This final track ends with a slice of distortion. If David Gilmour rather than David Johansen represents the role model for the band’s direction over the past five years, this may promise more intriguing depths for The Horror The Horror. Their name arouses a more visceral reaction than their glossy, sleeker music delivers. Therefore, more dissonance, more experimentation, more daring may allow these five Stockholm fans of the CBGB’s era to follow their idols, who after all sought a more inventive, less soothing, way to entertain audiences circa 1978.