Dungen have mastered the subtle art of moving on sonically while still remaining true to their aesthetics.
It’s been more than ten years since Dungen provided us with their masterpiece, 2004's anthemic Ta Det Lungnt. Their timing helped, though: prog music was undergoing some sort of revival, and the Swedish quartet’s sound was too specific for that time. For reasons unknown to most people, Dungen’s music stood out for its very particular nature, as if it were right there between dream pop and more generic guitar-oriented music. The band’s mixture of folkloric music and an unbreakable sense of control continues to be unquestioned.
A decade has since passed and Dungen have remained quite the same, releasing along the way what seems to be their most influential pieces of work to date (2007’s Tio Bitar and 2008’s 4) and one of this decade’s best albums (2010’s Skit I Allt). Dungen move on slowly and carefully, never adapting their already perfect sound to anything, resembling, for instance, the same path New York-based duo Beach House once took. That is, there is no reason for dramatically changing one’s sound when the ultimate goal is crafting and perfecting what’s already there.
Allas Sak, then, is Dungen’s latest offering in five years. And, for the first time, the band’s virtuosity sounds common, an assertion that only make sense after listening to the most recent Tame Impala and White Denim records. Which, of course, in no way means that these acts have somehow outdone Dungen. Allas Sak sounds a lot like a band coming to terms with its own aesthetics and purpose: a final step in a series of progressions which started ten years ago.
Which is to say that Allas Sak sees Dungen slightly repositioning their sound while also moving forward. Much like Skit I Allt, this album mixes an ode to the 1960s sugar-coated pop they refer to so intensely and instrumentals. The result is a dreamy conjugation of pop sensibility and spontaneity. Luckily, things haven’t changed that much when it comes to Gustav Ejstes’ overall presence. Gustav still sings in Swedish, with his voice being a fine companion to the already sweet, controlled approach to rhythm and melody they possess. The title track demonstrates the extreme interplay between instruments, the balance between a clearly guitar-oriented album and the folk music sometimes Dungen hint at.
Although initially in their career Dungen were credited (rightfully, to some extent) as a psych rock band, there’s also another reason for why Allas Sak sounds so much like a conclusion in terms of artistic progression. But just as time passes, Dungen have acquired a keen sense of control. Every song on the record moves with purpose, austerely. There isn’t much room for spontaneity, either. Instrumentals rarely diverge from already well-established paths (for example, flute and drums on “Franks Kaktus” do most of the work) never really reaching some sort of climax.
Dungen then rely on virtuosity for most of the album. First single “Akt Dit” is a modest, yet vibrant take on 1960s pop with a sax solo at the end which is reminiscent of the band’s attention to detail. Bearing that in mind, such a close look to the music’s minimalism is invaluable to the band. Yet, there’s something that keeps the album from being simply an overzealous approach to songcraft: Dungen’s pop appeal.
At times, Allas Sak seems like it doesn’t really move out of place sonically, which, for a different band, would be something reprehensible. Gustav Ejstes’ guitar lingers while never really taking off, songs come and go seamlessly, rarely reaching a peak. It takes a subtle kind of art to do that. That much control brings to their sound a sense of order, of utter respect to the form. The album’s climax -- considering Allas Sak comports a so-called moment of climax -- does not come with the usual guitar screaming. Instead, “Flickor Och Pojkar” takes the subtlety to extremes. Given its angelic pace, the song could be easily mistaken for an interlude.
At first sight, concluding that Dungen have found just now sonic maturity could seem disrespectful in regards to the band’s history. But listening to this album closer, one shall see Dungen have mastered a really important feat: Allas Sak sees the band not really going anywhere in terms of sound and songcraft -- a choice which, more often than not, had them accused of releasing the same album time after time. Still, their latest offering is inevitably a step forward. By moving on while still playing around with their familiar aesthetics, they reach the kind of artistic balance most people can only envy. That is, effortless progress.