REVIEW: Dungen – Allas Sak
I hate jumping the gun when it comes to naming an album of the year. I usually end up with a handful of albums that I find have their own merits and present an unranked top 10 when the end of the year rolls around. This year, it’s Dungen’s Allas Sak, something I have no trouble asserting still two months out from 2016. Father John Misty’s I Love You Honeybear, the Mountain Goats latest and Viet Cong’s self-titled release from earlier this year are all undeniably great albums, but nothing has hit me and stuck like Allas Sak.
In all honesty, I didn’t think much of Dungen before the album dropped. I’d had limited exposure to the band and while a handful of tracks stood out to me, I suppose I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by this release. Yet with Allas Sak, the band has crafted something at once familiar and wholly original. A sense of nostalgia is threaded throughout these tracks that in hindsight is perhaps owed to the influence of some of Sweden’s psychedelic forefathers. Shortly discussing the album with my friend Zach (a fellow DJ and occasional guest on the KPSU show), he sent me a mix featuring artists like Bo Hansson and Ragnarok whose impact can be widely felt throughout Allas Sak. Dungen have crafted something new with a genre that by all means should be dusty and stale.
Choosing a favorite track from the album is a difficult task. In part, that’s because the album is immaculately weaved together. Each song lends itself to the next creating the feeling that you’re hearing something sequenced with careful intent. That said, I usually point people towards “Flickor Och Pojkar” if I need to sell someone on Allas Sak. It’s an outlier perhaps, but no two tracks on the album are really quite the same. There’s magic on this one though that seems to have most of the elements that make this such a standout album. A gorgeous piano melody opens the track and carries along throughout it. The wistful guitars are what hits the listener next and the peculiar mixing on them (perhaps some sort of delay / reverse going on here? You all know I’m no musician…) always draw me into this enigmatic piece.
Another standout is the horn-heavy “Sisten Gästen.” The drumming here trots along, occasionally breaking the steady pace for some small acts of showmanship, a pattern with the rhythm section on Allas Sak. And those goddamned flutes! Are we certain Dungen aren’t time travelers from the 70s come to shatter the musical landscape of 2015? Now, not being a speaker of Swedish, I’ve had an enjoyable time simply guessing at what the hell these tracks are about. I like to imagine this one chronicles that very process (i.e. rocking into the future).
The last one that I’ll hopelessly paw at while hoping to ascertain some sort of meaningful analysis (I’m doing a poor job, I think) is “Franks Kaktus.” By all means, feel free to skip over this brief ramble and watch the hilariously bizarre video above. I also think it lends credence to my time traveler theory. Anyways, the track, like many on Allas Sak is heavy on the unconventional instrumentation. This one has the feel of an old western soundtrack. It gallops along for nearly 6 minutes with brief interludes for flute flourishes.
It’s hard for me to resist comparing Allas Sak to Lee Hazelwood’s A House Safe For Tigers. That’s partially because I discovered both albums around the same time and have been listening to the two as sort of companion pieces. The American-Gone-Swede singer-songwriter put together the soundtrack for his film of the same name and while it’s a bit scattered (the funky romp “Las Vegas – A House Safe For Tigers” doesn’t jive the least bit with the symphonic narration on “Sand Hill Anna and the Russian Mouse“), I think there’s something of a common thread between it and Allas Sak. Listening to “Soul’s Island” you can hear that something completely different from what Dungen are doing in 2015, but this strange European pastoral folk sound is there in both of these very different pieces of music. Bert Jansch and Davy Graham surely influenced Hazelwood in his endeavor and I’d be surprised if Dungen hadn’t at least let some of that seep into their writing. I’m falling into a bit of a musical rabbit hole here, so I’ll stop before I lose my point. It’s this: there’s a rich tradition of reinventing the genre in the land of Sweden. Of taking something that has been done by many before and turning it on it’s head. With Allas Sak, Dungen have repaved the musical landscape. Probably by time traveling.
Allas Sak is out now via Mexican Summer.