In most ways, I do not resemble the average American. Unlike three-fourths of the country, I did not vote for George Bush or, worse, did not vote at all (just kidding — there isn’t anything worse). I don’t like McDonald’s, I have no idea who Gretchen Wilson is, and I have only been to a Wal-mart once (to buy condoms). However, I am very similar in one aspect: I don’t like it when people sing in other languages. Mostly, I think it sounds silly or, like most Mexican music, cheesy. It doesn’t help that I can’t understand what the hell they’re saying, or that I can’t force them to speak English — or at least more slowly and loudly.
So it was with more curiosity than excitement that I approached the much-ballyhooed psych-rock of Dungen’s Ta Det Lugnt. Almost universally acclaimed for its retro-minded arrangement and compositions, the record — which is only available as an import in the United States — is sung entirely in Swedish and, except for the occasional moment when I think I know what he is saying ("Did he just say ‘I am the man’?"), he could be telling me to go fuck myself and I would go on rockin’. But it’s a sound move, because the music seems surer of itself and to be less about the posturing that can destroy a record that is so dearly indebted to a foreign and time-specific genre.
The songs are uniformly strong on a bare-bones level. The album’s first half would be considered a little more pre-glam, with some semi-chant-worthy choruses and an early hard-rock sensibility. The second half becomes a little more ambient, with some jam-like free-jazz breakdowns. The two seven-minute centerpieces of the album, "Du E For Fin For Mig" and "Ta Det Lugnt," display all that the record has to offer beautifully, with strings and piano and guitar all smashed into a fifteen-minute period. The title track is particularly memorable, with its great chorus and a tempo switch halfway through. Its follow-up, "Det du Tänker idag är du i morgon," could be early Thievery Corporation, and "Lipsill" is a straight-up Beatles song.
Unbelievably, Dungen is just one guy, the multi-talented Gustav Ejstes. His Sabbath-like anthems, which melt into jazz-freakout groove sessions and Move-style psych-pop, is all over the circa-1969 map. But it works because it’s so damn good. Strong melodies and stellar flow can save any record from irrelevance, but the strength of the instrumental performances here combines with those virtues to make a truly memorable album.
Perhaps Ta Det Lugnt could have tried a little less to ape a style that has little undiscovered territory left. But the refusal to cave in to the constant critical demand for modern dialogue with an older style can be admirable when what’s behind it is such a solid representation of a past genre — even if it is that refusal that, like in this instance, keeps a record from being truly great. Nevertheless, Dungen’s third album is a must-have for any psychedelia fan, and one of the best records of 2004.