Upon first listen, Sweden’s Amandine seems like a direct descendant of Jason Molina and Mark Kozelek. Themes of loneliness, loss and desperation accompany the instrumentation commonly associated with American folk (banjo, violin, harmonica, accordion). But to succeed in this element, credibility is essential. Amandine’s handling of these motifs isn’t necessarily awkward or ill fitting, but it is incomplete. On Solace in Sore Hands, the band’s third album, Amandine successfully burrows into heartbreak but fails to extrapolate anything universal.
Amandine’s credibility as ambassadors of the dark, somber depths of emotion is not in question; what’s lacking is a sympathetic presence from band leader Olof Gidlof. Vocally, he sounds defeated. When he sings, “Desperation bleeds from your tired eyes/ as your tired eyes stare into mine” and “We’ve been wading in waters so dark/ now we’re drowning in chores of the heart,” there’s no hope for change, nor is there anger toward his current state. It’s not easy to invest in an artist who is hesitant to offer a complete portrait.
The band’s use of horns, banjo, strings and finger-picked acoustic help compensate for the lack of human presence. But as I listen to Solace in Sore Hands, I can’t help but wish I was instead listening to Magnolia Electric Co. or Ghosts of the Great Highway. Which is a shame, because the music and themes here are on point. Gidlof just needs to embrace the vulnerability that will allow his songs to demand an emotional investment from the listener.