Surrounded, Tommy Flynn's, London
Thursday 24 April 2008
Vaxjo, Surrounded's small home town in southern Sweden, is twinned with Duluth, Minnesota, the birthplace of Bob Dylan and slap-bang next to the headwaters of the Mississippi river and the start of the iconic Highway 61. It's an interesting detail to savour while taking in a band who so elegantly and confidently channel a very 21st-century take on Americana.
The five-piece's second album, The Nautilus Years, was recorded in true alt.country-anchorite fashion in a ramshackle summerhouse deep within an apparently godforsaken forest where the abundance of tall timber to chop and chipmunks to chase made up for the lack of decent heating, proper toilets and adequate bedding. They've been lumped in with nu-gazers such as Maps, but they're more like a Scandinavian Doves, and, as with that band, their proggy, immersive songs warrant a big space, certainly bigger than a grotty Camden pub where a good proportion of the punters are more engrossed in the football on TV than the acts on stage.
Surrounded's lead singer, Marten Rydell, looks a little like a young Kris Kristofferson, perhaps the Kristofferson who famously landed his helicopter in Johnny Cash's backyard so he could give him a demo tape of "Sunday Morning Coming Down". In fact, "Kris Kristofferson in a helicopter" almost captures Surrounded's spacey, wheeling sound, which is so close to that of Sparklehorse that it verges on spoof, but is less sepulchral and more expansive, rounded out by Rydell's woozy vocals. These are allegedly protest songs, but with harebrained lyrics about "traitors' tangerines" and "lepers' drowned trombones", the only remonstrations here seem to be against basic verbal comprehension.
But it's somewhat bracing to be on the wrong end of some genuine madcap doggerel for a change, and delivered so artfully within a lush, yes, sonic cathedral. The names of the songs – "Paper Tangerine Crush", "Bolder Acrobat" – may be endearingly daft, but communicated with that ineffable Swedish poise, they're irresistible. "This is a song about possibility... and impossibility" is pretty much the sum total of what could be discerned from Rydell's interaction with his audience, but in the context of the band's thrilling jamming and extended outros, it all makes perfect sense.
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