Monday, August 21st, 2006

An Envoy To The Open Fields

When I went on my Scandanavian theme week back in mid-May, I was a little confounded about how I came up empty for decent or interesting Danish bands. I mean, I didn’t look THAT hard, but certainly couldn’t think of any I wanted to write about off the top of my head.

First off, I have to confess that their famously awful album art kept me from listening to Mew’s And the Glass Handed Kites for… I don’t know how long. But it was a while. Not as long as it’s taken the album to get a North American release (it came out in Europe in 2004 2005), but still – a while. But when I did finally pop it in the CD player, my initial reaction was… what the hell. A lot of reviews have referenced Sigur Ros in trying to describe Mew’s sound, but I’ve found more often than not such parallels are lazy writing applied to any Scandanavian band that doesn’t sound like The Hives.

In Mew’s case, the comparisons are simultaneously dead-on yet way-off. Jonas Bjerre’s voice can indeed soar to the stratosphere like Jonsi Birgisson’s and with a similar wide-eyed, childlike quality and the band often reaches even further into space in their musical ambitions. But if Sigur Ros evokes the frozen beauty of a glacier plain, Mew dwell in the hyper-kinetic, ultra-urban neon wilderness of glass and stainless steel. The quartet spew out epic-length glammy post-prog-space rock with touches of Queen-approved arena-metal grandiosity. There’s even a couple J Mascis guest vocals – it’s an unusually demented sort of band that actually invites J to sing on a record, and for that they have my respect. I intially found it hard to believe what I was hearing was created unironically but I think that’s more a comment on my own musical cynicism than anything else. No, these Danes mean every soaring note and I think the world is a better place for it.

And if Mew wasn’t enough to cement Denmark’s place in the musical firmament, I was recently introduced to their countrymen Under Byen, whose name means “under the city”. They’re very aptly named because their slow, druggy aesthetic really does sound subterranean in a modern-day, steampunk sort of way… actually, it sounds like the lost soundtrack to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s City Of Lost Children, by turns tinkling like a music box or clanging like pipes, hypnotic and beautifully creepy. Adding to the mysteriousness is the fact that all vocals are in Danish, though that’s probably less otherworldly if you speak Danish. One might be tempted to call them a hybrid of Sigur Ros (them again!) and Amina fronted by Bjork, but while that’s quantitatively quite accurate, it also sounds more than a little cliche and doesn’t do the band nearly enough justice for the uniqueness of their sound.

The band has just signed a North American deal with Toronto’s Paper Bag Records, who will release their latest album Samme Stof Som Stof (“Same Fabric As Fabric”) on September 26. They will be playing Pop Montreal on October 5 with Joanna Newsom, so that’s a “for sure” on my calendar – presumably/hopefully there will be a Toronto date to go along with that, perhaps with Newsom again on October 4 at the Mod Club? Pure speculation.

Since both bands are quite established back in their homeland (if wholly unknown on these shores), there’s a surplus of audio and video materials to get acquainted with. Mew, in high gear promoting the album in North America, recently did a session for AOL’s Interface and Pitchfork has an exclusive MP3 to audition. Spin also has some streams. As for Under Byen, this comprehensive fansite has plenty to get you started.

So yeah, Denmark. Way to go. No more Aqua jokes.

MP3: Mew – “Chinaberry Tree”
MP3: Under Byen – “Af Samme Stof Som Stof”
MP3: Under Byen – “Den Her Sang Handler Om At Fa Det Bedste Ud Af Det”
Video: Mew – “Special” (YouTube)
Video: Mew – “The Zookeper’s Boy” (YouTube)
Video: Under Byen – “Af Samme Stof Som Stof” (YouTube)
MySpace: Mew
MySpace: Under Byen

PopMatters talks to Bobby Gillespie about Primal Scream’s new one Riot City Blues, which is out tomorrow.

So Much Silence has MP3-ified Rob Dickinson’s recent radio session for WOXY.

Lily Allen, aka this year’s model (for overexposed internet sensations) has booked a Toronto date at the Mod Club Lee’s Palace on October 8. Via For The Records.

Yo La Tengo tell they don’t like the term “indie”. I Am Not Afriad Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass is out September 12.

Watched Kicking And Screaming last night. The Noah Baumbach film, not the Will Ferrell one. Enjoyed it. Realized it has been seven years since I graduated from university. Spent the rest of the night in severe depression.

And yes, I was down all morning. Believe me, I know.

np – Great Lake Swimmers / Bodies And Minds

By : Frank Yang at 8:16 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. mjrc says:

    fyi–hits in the car has three mixtapes of danish music.

  2. Renee says:

    Oh my god…that album cover… If you’re going to link to something like that again you have to post a warning or something – cause I was all "how bad could it be" and…damn.

  3. Alan says:

    It would be nice if Pop Montreal would release the full schedule eh? Vacation days are getting hard to come by…

  4. jesse says:

    rad, unber byen is cool, definitely will be at the montreal show with newsom, for realz!

  5. max says:

    i caught mew a few weeks ago in berkeley opening for bloc party/bss and it was pretty damn underwhelming

  6. peck says:

    The Raveonettes are Danish, isn’t that enough?

  7. Glenn says:

    I thought you may have a Lambchop post up today. Maybe tomorrow?

    They did an in-store in Nashville yesterday. New songs were fantaatic. The CD is fantastic. More fantastic music from a fantastic band.

    Would have taken a better photo but the display on my camera is effed up and I can’t use it as a viewfinder or see pictures after I take them. Sucks. Uploading and finally seeing the photos is like going to a store and picking up a roll of processed film.

  8. stytzer says:

    Great post, although the album was released in Denmark in September last year. Not in 2004.
    Thanks mjrc for mentioning those mixtapes. Frank – there should be a song or two in there that you’ll like (I hope)!

  9. Thierry says:

    Glad to see some love from both Pitchfork and you for the latest Mew record, which I’ve been listening to on a regular basis since late last year. You should also look for their previous record, Frengers, which has better individual songs than And Then the Glass…, but still shows Mew’s great touch for awful album art.

  10. John Fogde says:

    I’m assuming that you already know Junior Senior and The Raveonettes and not being able to remember them was just a fluke. They release their records on Crunchy Frog Records, which is also the home of epo-555 and PowerSolo, who are both worth checking out.

    But the most interesting Danish label right now is Morningside, which is home to Under Byen. They have recently released the second album by Figurines, which is out stateside via The Control Group. Figurines were reviewed very favourably alongside label mates I Am Bones and Diefenbach (Wall of Sound) on the Stylus Magazine site recently. And Morningside is also home to Oh No Ono, whose debut album will be released very soon.

    So, I’d recommend all these names along with Spleen United, Veto, Cartridge, Dùnè, and the late great Tiger Tunes if you’d like to learn more about Danish music. All of them should have songs available on MySpace.

  11. stytzer says:

    John – Did you leave out Kashmir on purpose or did you simply forget them?

  12. Frank says:

    okay, so I overlooked some Danish bands who aren’t Aqua. But to be fair, none of those mentioned are acts I listen to or have in my collection, so a cursory rifle through my short-term memory came up with nothing.

    But nice to see there’s people looking out for Denmark’s reputation. And though it’s probably totally irrelevant, I was in Copenhagen last year and it’s a gorgeous city. And it has a great airport with hardwood floors.

  13. Sara says:

    You probably already know this, but just in case:

    <a href="…">Criterion releases Kicking and Screaming on DVD</a>

    Did you watch the Criterion version? I’ve been waiting for <i>years</i> for it to come out on DVD at all, and now it gets Criterion treatment?! Hooray! God bless Wes Anderson for helping pull Noah Baumbach up into his stratosphere.

    p.s. the movie only gets better each time you watch it.

  14. Sara says:

    whoops, looks like these comments aren’t HTML-enabled … my bad!

  15. Frank says:

    I did watch the Criterion version – it’s the only DVD release the film has ever had, isn’t it? I think I still have a couple bonuses to get through before it goes back to the shop.

  16. cindyhotpoint says:

    Don’t tell, but I really love Mew. All my friends HATE them.