Photo: Palli Kristmundsson / Worldisc

Fränder’s ‘II’ Is Nordic Folk at Its Most Boundless

Sweden’s Fränder blend Scandinavian and Baltic musical traditions with global folk-rock in contemporary arrangements that are heartfelt and fresh.

Fränder II
Nordic Notes
20 October 2023

Pastoral themes and Nordic lifeways have long been intertwined in the global consciousness. Whether or not such associations are entirely accurate is debatable–there are certainly critiques to be had surrounding the relationships between aesthetics and romantic nationalism in such cultural imaginaries–but whatever the effects, folk music revival has undoubtedly played a major role in their perpetuation. There is, though, no shortage of groups who approach such connections with a sense of play.

Based in Sweden, Fränder are an excellent example of one of the newer acts to join this more globally-minded Northern European folk contingent. On their second album, Fränder II, they bring a kaleidoscopic perspective to the scene by braiding together Scandinavian and Baltic traditions with substantial global folk-rock in contemporary arrangements that are, if not entirely unprecedented, heartfelt and fresh.

Fränder’s core quartet is all family: siblings Gabbi Dluzewski (låtmandola and percussion), Daniel Dluzewski (double bass), and Natasja Dluzewska (lead vocals and fiddle) and Gabbi’s wife Säde Tatar (flute, bagpipe, Jew’s harp). Joining them here on additional percussion are Andreas Berglund, Valter Kinbom, and founding Hedningarna member Björn Tollin, whose enthusiasm for the band lends them some extra intergenerational credibility in addition to the harder rock edge that has always been key to Hedningarna’s success in bashing folk boundaries. Kinbom, meanwhile, is nimble on both aludu (“Tid att komma hem”) and darbuka (“En sommarkväll”). It makes for an ensemble with a sturdy, low-end and high collective energy.

With the exception of an intricately rearranged Estonian folk song (“Õhtu õrna”, where Fränder’s vocal harmonies fully come together), the texts here are all original works on familiar themes of love, longing, heartbreak, and home, with rich nature imagery. Wind, rain, and sun represent anguish on the whirlwind opening track, “Evigt regn”, while a moonlit lake sets the scene for a triumph of patience on the blissful closer, “Under ditt hjärta”. Passion reigns across the record. Album highlight “En sommerkväll” builds slowly, lust boiling over into bittersweet swirls of flute and fiddle as Gabbi strums his låtmandola with growing resolve. The two-part suite “Kom till mig, jäg väntar” is thick with it, the hazy, bass-laced desire of the first part shifting into a frenzy for the second. 

While Fränder II draws on many of the same topics and textures as acoustic Nordic roots revival music has for decades, Fränder lead rather than follow, setting them apart from more conservative folk groups. From the near-psychedelic eddies of instrumental “Rabatud” to the lonesome ferocity of “Svarta sparvens sorg” and the intricate choreography of “Kung Björns polska”, Fränder bring acoustic fire to their work on II. This is folk music at its most boundless, following in the footsteps of innovators like Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band, and Nordic folk-rockers like Hedningarna, Garmarna, and Gjallarhorn. 

As they always do, though, comparisons fall short. Fränder are a group of skillful and vital artists whose musical interests begin in the past but always face forward. In keeping with that orientation, Fränder II wastes no time on nostalgia. Instead, they unleash timeless, elemental forces in gripping sonic permutations, moving them ahead by leaps and bounds into an exciting new phase of their music.

RATING 8 / 10