Sweden’s latest exports lead the wild rumpus with 1960s-inflected electro-dreampop
At first glance, the sleeve of Death And Vanilla’s ‘To Where The Wild Things Are’ looks curiously familiar, like an iconic Penguin book jacket from the 1960s. Anyone au fait with the vivid aesthetic of Jim Jupp and Julian House’s wonderfully “out there” Ghost Box label – similarly rooted in the joyous cosmic whimsy of esoteric English pop culture and nostalgia – would assume this was one of their releases. The question is how a trio of musicians from Malmö in Sweden – Marleen Nilsson, Anders Hansson and Magnus Bodin – have managed to so successfully mine such quintessentially English music.
DAV’s debut album proper – named after Maurice Sendak’s seminal 1963 children’s picture book – seems derived from a surreal parallel universe or an elaborate dream. And just like Sendak’s treasured work, the record’s hallucinatory textures and apparitional lullabies, charged with lucid atmospheres and inky fairytale hues, celebrate the impulse and power of the imagination. It’s a world all too easy to lose yourself in and a strangely alluring one at that: close your eyes and you’re transported to an eerie space, with the sense that something decidedly creepy, untoward or deeply thrilling is about to unfold.
The lavish, intricate arrangements here are key, drawing on hauntological tropes, library music, exotica and old sci-fi soundtracks. They plug into baroque, sun-dappled 60s pop (The Zombies, The Left Banke, Curt Boettcher) and make use of krautrock’s propulsive rhythms. The album even references proto-electronic music pioneers such as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and The United States Of America. The latter, of course, are a major influence on Birmingham’s arch retro-futurists Broadcast – to whom this record, in all its woozy, kaleidoscopic glory, is very much in thrall.
It’s no accident that ‘To Where The Wild Things Are’ sounds like it was made 40 years ago. Recorded in their own rehearsal space using just a single microphone – a 1970s Sennheiser bought at a flea market – DAV’s evocative soundscapes, fashioned from an array of vintage and analogue equipment (Moog, vibraphone, organ, Mellotron, harpsichord, tremolo guitar, etc) are designed to emulate the warm, atmospheric vibes of yore.
Achingly lovely it all is, too. The opening cuts, ‘Necessary Distortions’ and ‘The Optic Nerve’ – eerie, visceral and ruminative – set the tone, existing in a cusp somewhere between spectral Julee Cruise/Angelo Badalamenti-style dreamscapes and noir-ish Mazzy Star-like introspection. The bewitching and soporific ‘Follow The Light’ is another high point, as Nilsson sings like she’s gazing up at the sky and seeing the stars for the first time, her breathless voice full of wonder.
But it’s the haunting final track, ‘Something Unknown You Need To Know’, with its spine-tingling oscillations and flutters once again recalling Broadcast at their brilliant best, that truly feels like unearthly music from another dimension. Whether of this world or not, ‘To Where The Wild Things Are’ is a scintillating listen that fully deserves to be counted as one of this year’s essential albums. Not bad going for a group that sounds like an indulgent milkshake.