City Paper is not for tourists
A few years back, Dungen pulled off a hell of a gambit: The Swedish neo-psychedelic outfit convinced jamophobic hipsters to pack rock clubs and endure epic-length, self-indulgent guitar noodling. It’s one thing to get the kids into the pretty sounds of pastoral psych-folk or the sun-drenched melodies of Brian Wilsonnstyled fuzz pop. It’s quite another to get ’em to have the patience for a 30-minute “jazz odyssey” that sounds like a duel between great Swedish organist Bo Hansson and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson. Dungen’s popularity comes thanks to the almost universal critical acclaim for its 2004 album, Ta Det Lugnt, and it didn’t hurt that the band looked the part of late ’60s acid rockers—unkempt Aragorn hair, tight jeans, striped sweaters, and buccaneer shirts. What helped the most, though, was that Dungen’s main man, Gustav Ejstes, could write classic time-capsule psych gems—“Panda,” for example, was equal parts catchy pop and exploratory improv, and arguably the greatest psychedelic song recorded in recent memory. That’s a lot to live up to, which may explain why Ejstes took his time crafting Tio Bitar, his fourth record. He oversaw every aspect of recording and production, taking care to perfectly re-create vintage sounds with vintage equipment. Though Dungen is undeniably Ejstes’ show, he wisely collaborated with several musicians from previous releases—particularly ax-master Reine Fiske, whose guitar tone is so crackly and fuzzy that listeners will be checking their speakers for defects. Fiske kicks off Tio Bitar with a propulsive guitar solo on “Intro,” a wordless ebb-and-flow jam that, at less than four minutes long, doesn’t wear out its welcome. “Familj” features Ejstes’ perfectly muffled vocals and gorgeous Hammond B-3 accompaniment, while “Gör Det Nu” works by exploiting the patented Dungen formula of unglued guitar paired with a catchy chorus; the playing seems completely relaxed, but the song is bristling with high energy. The album also shows off the band’s bucolic folk side, which is more suited to recording than live performance. “C Visar Vägen,” for example, is a wistful sorbet that cleanses the palate before the herky-jerky stomper “Du Ska Inte Tro Att Det Ordnar Sig.” Ejstes continues to write and sing in Swedish, which is probably a smart move—“tio bitar” sounds like a Viking curse but actually means “10 pieces,” which sounds more like a description of a tea set. And not understanding the language actually helps, since it emphasizes the abstract nature of many of Dungen’s songs. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the shire, however: Ta Det Lugnt has a few more superior songs, and Tio Bitar’s tunes seem to have been trimmed of excessive jamming. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the relative brevity does make for less melodic tunes. “Så Blev Det Bestämt” and “Ett Skäl Att Trivas” simply lack hooks, and the endless solos that end “Mon Amour” throw an otherwise fine song off track. Still, the fans who had the patience to sit through Ejstes’ sitcom-length improvisations will stick around for the good bits on the new disc as well.