The Concretes are the finest pop package to come out of Sweden since The Hives, with the music of the Stockholm octet recalling everything from The Ronettes and Dexy's Midnight Runners to the Velvet Underground. They've even skirted the seasonal-pop pitfalls of a Christmas-themed release with the Warm Night EP.
"Christmas songs are one of the few nice things about Christmas," shrugs Lisa Milberg, the band's drummer. "The first cover version we ever did was Elvis Presley's 'I'll Be Home for Christmas'. The EP tracks don't sound like Christmas songs, though. They're just songs, really."
She's right, of course. It's a winningly soft oasis that should prompt you to pick up their doozy of a debut album: a languid, lovelorn art-pop thing, which sets a mix of honey-warm soul, fizzy girl-pop and fuzzy 4am balladry to a woozy wash of sound, led by the sleepy-cat croon of their wig-wearing, interview-shy singer, Victoria Bergsman.
Like the sometimes orchestra-augmented Tindersticks, The Concretes use a host of contributors - eight core members plus 12 "honorary Concretes" - to rich effect. "I don't think we made a conscious decision to say, 'Let's keep it quiet'," says Milberg. "I just think everyone is modest, no big egos, and ready to step back."
Playing quietly for The Concretes is about dynamics. "Everything becomes more important," says Daniel Värjö, one of the guitarists, "because when you play something, you really hear it. And to make a decision to not play is also to play, actually. The silent parts in music are still music."
The Concretes were surely noisier as a three-piece a decade ago. When Milberg and Maria Eriksson (guitars) met Bergsman at art school, The Concretes were born. "We played rockabilly songs then," says Milberg. The band evolved into their present form in the late 1990s, when musicians moonlighting from other bands for one gig winded up staying. "I think we were scared to play in front of each other," says Milberg, "so we just drank lots of wine and beer and jammed for hours drunk."
But if Eriksson pitches their sound as "drunken pop music", it's more about prioritising feeling over proficiency than drinking. You won't catch this band using click tracks to fix a tempo. "I blame England," says Milberg. "Here, more than anywhere else, everything has to be perfect: no mistakes."
But while they have a flexible approach to rhythm, the eight members are the archetypal art-school concept band when it comes to controlling all their bases, setting up their own label, and designing their artwork and videos. "We pay a lot of attention to the artwork," Milberg nods. "People make fun of us because of where me and Victoria met. 'Surprise! They met in art school!'"
The 'Warm Night' EP and 'The Concretes' are out now on Licking Fingers. The Concretes support St Etienne at Shepherds Bush Empire, London W12 (0115-912 9000) on New Year's Eve