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Thirdimension: Protect Us From What We Want

Protect Us from What We Want
Warner Music Sweden

This is absolutely criminal. Courtesy of the NME, we’ve been assaulted with information about two Swedish bands. The Hives have enjoyed a wild ride in recent months. Their particularly melodic brand of garage rock has taken both England and the States by storm. I admit that I like the Hives, but anyone who thinks that Veni, Vidi, Vicious deserves inclusion on year-end lists due to a couple of strong singles is on crack. The other group from the Nordic land, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, is a frighteningly mediocre psychedelic outfit. At worst, they sound like flunkies from the Flaming Lips School of Sonic Experimentation. At best, they sound like Oasis pilfering old Rolling Stones licks. So far, their ideas outstrip their results. But I guess because they have a charismatic, bearded frontman, they qualify for the all-too-familiar British press blitzkrieg.

Now here’s the offense: there actually is a phenomenal, earth-shattering band in Sweden. However, they don’t look nearly as marketable as TSOOL or The Hives, which is probably why you haven’t heard of them. Their name is Thirdimension and their debut album, the one being reviewed here, is called Protect Us From What We Want. It was released in-get this-1998 (!) by Warner Sweden. The fact that it’s taken me this long to hear anything about this band is a testament to how savagely Thirdimension has been treated by their label. Apparently, the story goes that Warner released this album and failed to promote it, instead pumping money into Andreas Johnson, a more mainstream-friendly act on the label. The result: this album basically vanished without a trace and is presently out of print. While Soundtrack of Our Lives and The Hives have been wined and dined by A&R reps around the world, Thirdimension have had no choice but to sit at home and start work on another record.

So why the disrespect, you ask? Well, Thirdimension are unabashedly pop. There is some rock, but never at the expense of pretty, fluid melodies. They like their acoustic guitars and string arrangements far too much. Secondly, these guys don’t play their foreignness for laughs. You won’t find white loafers and ties on these guys or an obscene amount of facial hair. Their album cover simply features the four of them in plain white button down shirts and black pants, leaning against a wall. Yet whatever adventurousness they may lack in their presentation is certainly compensated for in the music. Protect Us From What We Want is a collection of colossal, towering pop songs-the kind with violins and cellos. You know, the sorts of impossibly grand song constructions that went of fashion in the late ’60s. Fortunately, someone forgot to tell the group’s songwriter/vocalist, Bjorn Stegmann, who wrote all the lyrics and most of the music for the album. Stegmann seems to have spent most of his youth in the bedroom with an acoustic guitar dissecting the Beatles catalogue. These songs all feature very basic chord progressions, but are outfitted in regal attire by the band, who ably flesh out the tracks with a seemingly endless array of instruments, including moogs, zithers, organs, harmonicas, and, of course, electric guitars.

But I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. The display of instrumental prowess isn’t merely showboating-as it often feels with The Soundtrack of Our Lives. These flourishes are all perfectly situated within the context of the songs, accentuating the strong underlying hooks. Some of the credit should also go to Cristoffer Lundquist, who not only keeps the sonic tapestry from fraying, but tempers the sugary string arrangements with just enough graininess to make them palatable.

But Thirdimension are not above a little garage-spirited rock ‘n’ roll either. When necessary, Thirdimension can strip it down to no less astonishing effect. Both the opener, “If This World Could Only See”, and “Other Side of Town” fall into this more straight-ahead rock category-well, about as “straight-ahead” as the songs on Super Furry Animals’ acid-soaked debut, Fuzzy Logic, which is to say they still feature plenty of nifty turns and fits. “If This World Could Only See” opens with a traditional classic rock riff, but nicely sidesteps boring retread status by incorporating a skittering drum beat and psychedelic, oscillating guitar lines. “The Other Side of Town”, meanwhile, flies through the Who’s early catalogue and lands smack dab in the Nuggets garage-band compilations. But perhaps the band’s crowning achievement is “Lonely Road”, which defies any easy categorization or parallels. Suffice it to say that if Paul and John could hear it, they’d swear they had come up with the melody themselves. It’s that unmistakably brilliant.

Even the lyrics — a notoriously weak point for foreign groups trying to communicate in English — are impressive and strong. Thirdimension don’t really go the literate indie route, but they don’t settle for the brain-dead Oasis couplets either. Instead, they prefer to strike a happy middle ground, using abstract phrases (“your duties are a room full of labeled cans and a spoon”) and throwing out random philosophical musings (“Do my dreams make sense to someone like you?”) that sound esoteric enough to border on the incomprehensible. The off-kilter lyrical approach might look strange on paper, but, within the context of the music, it provides the perfect foil for Stegmann’s traditional pop sensibility.

Okay, now for the bad news. For the time being, you can’t get your hands on a copy of Protect Us From What We Want. Thanks to the fine people at Warner Sweden, Thirdimension have had all sorts of problems getting a distribution deal outside the country. I can’t even find a way to get this album online. So if you’re really dying to get it, better book your plane ticket to Sweden. On the bright side, Thirdimension is currently in talks to get their next album/EP released by Parasol US (who also successfully handled distribution duties with Soundtrack of Our Lives). You can hear snippets of the new material at their official web site, go.to/thirdimension. But be forewarned, the new tracks are much more dance-oriented than the pure pop bliss of Protect Us From What We Want. (Not that the new song clips aren’t quite good, but they aren’t a good indication of the style on this debut.) And if the next Thirdimension release sells well Stateside, Parasol may then be able to land the rights to the band’s catalog, as they have with Soundtrack of Our Lives. I only hope that everything falls into place soon because this album is far too good to languish in obscurity any longer.