Saunas, Ibrahimovic, Gamla Stan, Gothenburg, ABBA. We love Sweden, they love us – and they love pop music too. Did you know that outside of the USA and UK no-one produces more of the stuff. On a completely unrelated note, did you know that Liechtenstein is the world’s biggest producer of false teeth? Anyway, Swedish music is great – condensing this particular nation into 5 songs is a challenge, I should have gone for Paraguay, or Tonga – but no, Sweden it is, and I bet you’re all like: “Oh why has he not picked The Tallest Man on Earth? Why not Lykke Li?”, and thats fine, because your opinions are all totally valid and spot on. These are just the 5 that I happened to have on, I don’t have to justify that to ANYONE – comprende?
Now, lets do this without mentioning ABBA…
Dungen – Panda
It all starts with a drum fill – perhaps the antithesis to ABBA starting ‘Dancing Queen’ with the chorus – and then grows into a wonderful voyage of experimental rock, complete with chugging guitar, a knockout chorus, and bloody key change at the end just for kicks. Back in 2004, Dungen released Ta Det Lungt to pretty much universal critical acclaim – and almost a decade on it’s a record that’s really stood the best of time, arguably more so than the rest of the class of 2004 (what a class it was though: Franz Ferdinand, TV on the Radio and Arcade Fire all came to the fore). The album was produced and written by multi-instrumental wonder kid Gustav Ejstes, and stands as his masterpiece. More so than their indie rock peers, Dungen emanated a real sense of unpredictability; see the way ‘Festival’ breaks away from its ‘campfire folk’ vibe into something that soars, and on the absolutely gorgeous ‘Du E For Fin For Mig’, how the stunning string introduction turns into an absolute jazz-rock freak out. Judging by that song title, you’ll probably be able to infer that we have lyrics delivered in Swedish, and I highly recommend staying away from any translations – if you want to sing along – just sing total gobbledygook. When the melodies are good as this, it really couldn’t matter at all.
The Knife – You Take My Breath Away
It’s impossible to overestimate how important The Knife have been in modern-pop terms. Silent Shout was arguably the strongest record of it’s kind released in 2006, and the Fever Ray record was a showstopper of an album, moody, brooding and formidable. The Glasgow show in September 2010 still ranks as one of my all time favourite shows – if you were there you got Fever Ray AND Zola Jesus. Not bad, right? So some Knife presence on this list was inevitable, the tough part is picking the song. I’ve plumped for You Take My Breath Away – and now that I’ve made this decision, I don’t want to spend the next 3 hours of my live working out if it was the right one. I’m cool with it – there’s nothing we can do now. You’re going to have to trust me.
So why this song, why not Heartbeats or Marble House? Why not a Fever Ray tune? It’s because of the Marimbas. Gather round, play this song, and marvel at the tropical vibes floating around amidst a sea of synthesisers and disturbed nursery rhyme style vocals. It’s genius – and that chorus is better than Dancing Queen.
Peter Bjorn And John – Up Against The Wall
‘Young Folks’ totally broke Peter Bjorn and John – a trio of equally talented songwriters, but arguably it’s been their biggest hinderance, as it’s become totally ubiquitous, appearing at every corner, entering every scene like Peter Serafinowicz’s Michael Caine parody, waving its hands and demanding to be noticed. It’s a shame, because Writers Block deserves to be recognised for it’s strength as a whole record. ‘Up Against The Wall’ is a real standout: despite spawning 7 minutes and never really straying from its central melody, it doesn’t feel like it drags on, a freshness reflected in the dynamic of the song, which subtly propels itself from it’s bare origins into a well layered masterpiece. Lyrically it revels in simplistic, acute observation, examining that impossible stage of a relationship where hope is lost. “It’s almost like we never met at all”, he sings – how true his sentiments are. Imagine the idealised vision of a girl, as portrayed – for example – in ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ – and consider this as the cynical opposing viewpoint.
Robyn – Be Mine
Quite simply, one of the best pop tracks of the last decade. Again, she’s given me a true selection dilemma here, because ‘With Every Heartbeat’ is also incredible – but these decisions won’t make themselves – the (questionable) criteria I’ve used to choose is: ‘The song you would rather record a cover of in the style of Burt Bacharach’, and so I come to ‘Be Mine’, which has a wealth of hooks that you could croon until the pigs come home, hooks so good that I don’t even need to mention ABBA’s Dancing Queen as a comparison. “It’s a good thing tears never show in the pouring rain”, our protagonist asserts, her sadness complimented by a track so upbeat, so buoyant, that by the time we reach the chorus (which by now you’ll have realised is the ultimate yardstick for pop) you’ve overdosed on sugary goodness – it’s completely devoid of subtlety and all the better for it. ‘”You never were, and you never will be mine”, she sings – defiant and optimistic – and like all good and addictive things, you need to go back for more.
Refused – New Noise
This has been a rather mellow collective of songs, the sort you could play in the car with the family as you drive home from a nice day out at M&Ds. It’s worth noting though that despite the picture I’ve painted so far, the Swedes have a dark, angry and bloody loud side, and my favourite exponent of said aggression is ‘Refused’, and i’ve picked the aptly titled ‘New Noise’ to represent hardcore music right here. The lead single from the seminal ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’, ‘New Noise’ is brutal, intelligent and bloody powerful. It opens slowly, almost tentatively, before the vibes are pierced by a fierce enquiry – ‘can I scream?’, Dennis Lyzden asks, and without waiting for a response proceeds to yell for 4 minutes over a cacophony, nay – an eruption – of angst. Like all good albums of it’s kind, ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’ broke Refused, an investment of energy and time that took them to the end of the line. Thankfully their parting gift is so significant that we’re unlikely to forget about it anytime soon.