Väsen: Keyed Up

Gypsy Flores

The virtuosic Swedish trio really shines when playing together as if of one mind.


Keyed Up

Label: Northside
US Release Date: 2004-09-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate

Keyed Up, the new release by the Swedish trio (sometimes a quartet) Väsen, is not a live recording per se. It wasn't recorded at a concert venue before a clapping, cheering audience. Nonetheless, Väsen wanted to make this recording sound as spontaneous and lively as one of their "live" recordings (such as Levande Väsen, performed before a Swedish audience, where in between playing they tell humorous stories and jokes -- but alas for me, in Swedish). In concert, the virtuosic musicians, Olov Johannsson, Swedish nyckelharpas (or key fiddles); Roger Talroth, guitar and Swedish bazooki; and Mikael Marin, violin and viola, with their boyish sly grins and humorous joking manner, are completely professional in their approach to their material, yet playful, with a warm rapport for each other as well as their audience. They hoped to capture this feeling in a studio recording without stifling themselves by over preparing.

Much of their material is music that they have composed themselves individually but bring back to the group for "filling" out and finalizing. This is one of the reasons the tracks on Keyed Up sound so fresh. A few days before they went into the studio, the three of them had basic ideas for the tunes, and worked them out just before actually recording them. This is a feat that only musicians who have played together for many years and recorded many albums together can do successfully. Väsen has been together since 1989 and have recorded about 10 albums together, as a trio and as a quartet. They have also recorded solo albums and have appeared as guest musicians on many others. It is as a trio, though, where they really shine is playing together as if of one mind.

In the liner notes, producer Robert Simonds quotes Olov as saying about the preparation for their recordings, "We've learned that too much rehearsal can be a bad thing. The more we rehearse, the more Roger likes to mess around with his part, which makes it hard for Mikael to find his part. The alternative is to lock into an arrangement early, which can make things too stiff." Whatever the explanation, their music is never stiff, whether they are playing purely traditional music or their own. They are excellent composers and well as interpreters of music composed by such Swedish greats as Byss-Calle and Erick Sahlstrom.

Olov Johannsson was the first player of the nyckelharpa to be awarded the prize of world champion for both the modern chromatic and older historical nyckelharpas. The nyckelharpa is considered Sweden's national instrument. This bowed instrument somewhat related to the hurdy-gurdy is a key fiddle; in other words, the strings are "stopped" by keys. The instrument displays an unworldly resonant sound similar to the Norwegian hardingfele.

Although Roger Talroth's guitar and other stringed instruments such as mandola and Swedish bazooki are not traditional to the music of Sweden, they add an element that drives the swirling polskas, schottishes, waltzes, and bride's marches to a new dimension. Traditionally, Swedish dance music is played with only the percussive element of the fiddler's foot marking the time for the dancers. Väsen, though, seeks a wider appeal then the local spelmanslag (cultural organization), and they were one of the first groups in Sweden to appeal to a wider audience and thus bring their music to international stages. They have even played with The Kronos Quartet.

Many of their tunes sound ancient, highly danceable, and melodic. They have the memorable quality that stays with you all day. You will find yourself humming or whistling them as you are washing dishes, changing the oil in your car, or weeding the garden.

All of their recordings are excellent; but Keyed Up is one of their very best and I highly recommend it as a good way to become introduced to this amazing trio of musicians from Sweden. Their previous recording Väsen Trio, also on Northside, is also highly recommended.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.