Living in the U.K. has its advantages for sure, but it does make for a blinkered view of the music scene. Our little island produces so much good music it’s unnecessary for us to look elsewhere for our next discovery. Apart from the music emerging from our American cousins we tend to overlook a great deal of music from other countries.

Things are changing slowly but surely. Thanks to the smaller record labels run by music fans rather than business men music from countries like Australia is at last getting some recognition in the U.K. And rightly so. But if we actually took the trouble to check out what is happening in the music scene in those countries surrounding us we would be pleasantly surprised. This is nothing new, take Sweden, home to the two artists featured here, and go way back to the 60's, there are oceans of undiscovered (and unheard of by anyone outside of Sweden) gems lying around from that era that hold up well against our home grown stuff. Admittedly there are more than a few duff cover versions but on the whole we missed out on a mass of good music. Which explains why obscure Swedish bands from the 60's now make regular appearances on the freakbeat/psych compilations which are being issued frequently in England now. Sadly in the U.K. unless music from Sweden is produced by bands beginning with the letters H (currently) or A (in the past) it’s given little time. Some of this neglect is warranted ; I, for one, can’t listen to Swedish radio now, it’s full of classic songs from the last few decades all given the European disco/club treatment. Fair enough it sells but it’s mind numbing and shows no sign of letting up, in fact it probably has a stronger following now than ever. But, taking the lead from Australia, there’s an ever growing independent scene in Scandinavia which is not all Norwegian Death Metal or a mindless re-hash of a past glory.

Power Pop and Americana are two genres which, unless you’ve been seeking them out or living there, seem unlikely to be coming out of Sweden. But coming out they are and at a rate and quality which puts our British bands to shame. In fact, a lot of what could loosely be termed alt-country or Americana which is being produced in Scandinavia is actually at least on a par, or suppresses that, which is coming out of America or the U.K. The fact that some of these albums are now gaining release in the U.K. and also receiving good reviews shows that we are finally realising that we don’t have the exclusive rights to this music.

As Jens Lekman so neatly puts it in a song from his debut U.K. release, ‘When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog’, “When people think of Sweden I think they have the wrong idea, like Cliff Richard who thought it was just porn and gonorrhoea” (from ‘The Cold Swedish Winter’ the best song on this collection). A Swede with a sense of humour yet another myth crushed! Going on to quote Lou Reed in the same song, it’s a gentle acoustic ballad about finding a new love while ploughing snow, apart from Lekman’s acoustic guitar the only other instrument is a lone violin and an achingly beautiful female voice which remains a mystery as no details are given in the minimal sleeve notes. Throughout the album Lekman sounds like Jonathan Richman and at times his lyrics are full of the humour Richman also uses. ‘Julie’ another acoustic ballad, which was also issued as the lead song on a five track EP in Lekman’s homeland and is worth tracking down, could easily have been lifted from an early Modern Lovers album. But Lekman is far from a Richman clone, the comparison must be made because of the vocal similarities, and the smart lyrics and Lekman really is a hopeless romantic. Even the a capella ‘Do You Remember The Riots?’ is an unrequited love song underneath all the rioting and fighting.

The album is actually a collection of Lekman’s work from 2000 to 2004 but it doesn’t sound like it was recorded over such a long period of time. Far from being a one trick pony it would appear that Lekman also beats Rufus Wainwright at his own game. What’s amazing is that Rufus Wainwright is now attracting a lot of attention and on songs like the ‘You Are The Light’ (not a Burt Bacharach cover although it could have been but another Lekman original) it would appear that some of those accolades should be coming Lekman’s way. Again, Wainwright being American is gaining all the attention while Lekman living in Göteborg is unlikely to make much impression outside of Europe. And that’s a crime as this 23 year old has a lot to offer.

Christian Kjellvander comes from a completely different place musically to Jen Lekman. ‘Songs From A Two-Room Chapel’ is Kjellvander’s solo debut album but he has already released a number of albums as a member of the band Loosegoats and a collaboration under the name of Songs Of Soil. The name of that collaboration is an appropriate description of the songs on this album. Deeply rooted in what we now call Americana these songs were recorded in an old organ factory in southern Sweden.

Although born in Sweden Kjellvander grew up in America before returning to his homeland in 1993 which might just account for the fact that the music he produces on this album is better than most of the albums from the same genre which are coming out of America these days. His voice is ideally suited to these songs and genre, a deep dark thing of beauty it’s at its best on songs like ‘Allelujah’ which had me checking the composing credits, it’s that authentic I expected to see the usual ‘trad’ in those brackets. Kjellvander is credited as the sole provider of vocals on this song, if that’s his ghostly “Alleujah” in the ‘chorus’ then he truly is an amazing vocalist. To be able to turn those deep warm vocals into something so fragile is not something many singers can do. The music on this particular song comes from guitar, harmonium, casio and a very effective saw which all add to the texture of this captivating song.

Critical acclaim was heaped on the Iron and Wine album ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ a year or so ago and again that originated from America. The sound of the singers’ voices is obviously different but the music is cut from a similar cloth. ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ got the approval from all who heard it and one can only hope that Kjellvander can somehow reach that wider audience. It must be frustrating for a musician of this class not to be able to break out of his homeland yet see others making similar music gaining all the praise. There’s not a song on this album which doesn’t stand up to repeated playing, and it’s not all typical Americana with odd instruments turning up here and there; the electric guitars on ‘Polish Daughter’ bring to mind Neil Young at his best.

Released in Sweden after ‘Songs From A Two-Room Chapel’ was a double CD compilation titled ‘Introducing The Past , Songs by Christian Kjellvander’ which complies earlier material from Kjellvander’s time with The Loosegoats and Songs Of The Soil and which are every bit as good as his solo debut. Kjellvander is a major talent there’s no denying that, and it would be criminal for us to go on ignoring talent like this just because it isn’t home-grown.

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ie London, England

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