Sunday, September 6, 2009

60s meets the 21st century, and together they point the finger - The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Today I’ve been listening to a really interesting album that was recommended by Scotti from Melbourne’s “Missing Link” record shop – a great place for finding things that no one else seems to want to stock. The Soundtrack of Our Lives is a Swedish rock band and, like so many things that come from Scandinavia’s music scene, they’re an interesting mix of tradition and innovation. Communion is their newest album. It’s a double CD set – just over 90 minutes, but 90 minutes of powerful, original, cleverly devised music that is, apart from anything else, just great to listen to.

The first thing that strikes you about this album, even before you listen to it, is the artwork, with all its photos of ever-so-slightly too happy faces – at home, at work, at play. But this is not an album about happy families but rather about the falsehood of all that. All throughout this album there seems to be a kind of indictment of the vanity-driven deception and hedonism of the modern middle class dream.

The album starts like an orchestra tuning up … then there’s a beat and a clap and things are off and running with “Babel on”. You are summonsed into its world and, before you've got a chance to ask any questions, you are moving and grooving to some great rock riffs, reborn from the 60s, but alive and kicking with real 21st century gusto, and a real 21st century message to tell.

The album goes through a lot of interesting paths, turning around a lot of interesting corners, at times hurling you along with energy you just can’t resist, at times asking you to stroll for a bit, while acoustic guitars take over, pluck away, and make you reflect. There are moments of introspection, moments of nostalgia, like the harpsichord and trumpet sounds of “The fan who wasn’t there”. There are songs that start off gently, lulling you into a sense of security, but then whip themselves, and you, up into a frenzy. Listen, for example, to "Second life replay", with its smooth, if unsettling and haunting, beginning ("I killed myself today"), transforming, bar by bar, to its feverish, impassioned end.

This really is music that could not have been written without the '60s, and at times I almost thought I was listening to Pink Floyd, but nor could it have been written before now, with interesting 21st century fusions of styles, and treatments and distortions of sound. It brings the two time zones and their different music worlds together in a way that makes you feel they belonged with each other all along.

It’s great music, but it’s by no means just about having a good time – although you certainly do that when you listen to this album. These songs seem to point the finger at all of us, confronting us with the façade behind which modern middle-class life seems so happy to hide. There are songs about how we destroy one another in our personal relationships, such as in “Universal Stalker”, or about how our society does it for us, as in “Mensa’s Marauders”. I'm not sure if I am reading too much into it, but it seems like this album almost means you to enjoy it in spite of yourself - you're dancing and rocking to songs that are telling you how false it all is, and how much damage it all does.

We are shown the absurdity of that façade, and its danger, like in the nuclear fallout of “RA 88”, with its hard rock aggression, its frightening, uncompromising beat: a song as much about our radioactive ideas, as about our weapons, I think.

But we are also shown our own search for meaning, our search for a sense of belonging, like in “Songs of the ocean”, with the words, “No we don’t belong anymore/to the umbilical shore” to music that really does sound like a voyage in a wide, endless sea - music that sways and drifts in some vast, vast space and ends with strings and electronic wails like the sound of some apocalyptic bird cry.

The album ends with “Passover”, where, to a grounded, steady, beat, and with lines like “Don’t pass it on/if you know it’s wrong” and “Somebody’s waiting for you” and “It’s only your life before you awake”, you can almost feel the band coming forward to the footlights, telling you that this is their message: you are part of something bigger, and people are relying on you to do the right thing.

If you don’t feel like plunging into the ideas behind this album, and their fairly confronting message of alienation and scorn (or at least that’s what they seem to say to me), you can still plunge into its music – because there can be little room for discomfort there: it’s just a great way to spend 90 minutes.

Thanks to Missing Link for a great recommendation!

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