BY JONATHAN LEVITT
Death and Vanilla hail from Sweden a place renowned for its beautiful women, long winter nights, and forests as much as it is for death metal and Abba. Much like the US state of Maine, Sweden seems to be filled with people who don’t consider isolation anti-social but a means to an end in an increasingly connected world and one, which they’re happy to shut their door on from time to time.
To Where The Wild Things Are, which is due out in May, will shock and surprise even the most cynical music fans of 60’s dream pop psychedelia. Lets start with the album cover art. A leopard’s eye, a blurred woman singing, a woman’s eye and five duck decoys laid out in a star pattern, with an icy blue pyramid centered over expanding reference sound waves. Its part thirteenth floor elevators blended with imagery from a department of defense sonic reference tone LP. The “eye of the world” imagery has been around since early human civilization. It’s a compelling point of entry into this record and its sinister undercurrent of tremolo washed guitar blended with buzzing vintage synthesizer sounds.
Necessary Distortions opens the record and is a very dreamy number, set over a tight metronomic beat, and has an almost Can- Father Cannot Yell vibe to it. This number sets the right tone for the record, which becomes increasingly disturbing as it sonically unfolds.
Arcana comes two tracks later and is probably the weakest track on the record. A derivative piece of hazy distorted vocals over a trying too hard to be interesting background, with its mélange of pedal effects.
California Owls, which helps the album regain its focus, is a mix of Broadcast with a hint of Oriental Sunshine. I can picture vocalist Marleen Nilsson walking around the remote Swedish coast with the golden light of dusk catching her looking out to a sea, lens flares and all.
Follow the Light is a really beautiful song that has the dreamy elements of The Raveonettes mixed with Stereolab. The track comes to an interesting open-ended conclusion.
The album has its finest musical moments from the track Shadow and Shape onwards. This is the darkest part of the album, and musically the most rewarding. It’s as if the rest of the record was preparing the listener for these four remaining tracks. Shadow and Shape with its multi-tracked vocals and music box like flourishes, is full of melancholy, and desperation. This track is remarkable for the simple elements that are assembled and build into a very complex dense conclusion.
In fact it is the tremendous focus of the latter part of the album that hints at even more brilliant things to come for this group.
The Hidden Reverse is the perfect soundtrack to something I once saw when I was living back in Tucson, Arizona in the late 90’s. One night I drove up into the mountains with my then girlfriend, and as we made our way around several bends, we could see an orange pulsating glow off in the distance, and as we rounded the next corner we could see a car had been set ablaze. Seeing this with no one around scared the hell out of me and I told my girlfriend that we should turn around and get off the mountain, for fear people might think it was we who had set the car ablaze. She gunned it and we made it back to the city, but the image has never left my mind some nearly twenty years later.
The band then serves up the magnificent track Moogskogen, which could only come from a place like Sweden. The intense loneliness, icy vocals and acoustic guitar and restrained pacing of the song take the listener to their own remote stretch of the forest, where they happen upon a Reindeer sky burial with snow being shaken from higher branches drifting down encasing everything in a crystalline sheen.
Something Unknown You Need To Know closes out the record with a number that says this is a band with some serious musical chops and ambitions. This is what the band Broadcast was aiming for but never achieved during its tenure. The way the song builds and morphs from something quite nebulous into a rhythmic symphony of deceptively simple repeated musical lines.
This is a well-crafted album that manages to reach some rare sonic ground save for a few missteps. The band works best when it is allowed to let the songs build and layer over one another. There is a determined creepiness that permeates the record. Many of the tracks could fit well in film sequences foreshadowing tragedy and moments of contemplation. Through the blue pyramid on the cover, Death and Vanilla have given us a peek into their isolated terrarium of a world. All that’s waiting now is a call from a talented director to match their emotional musical language with some ace visuals.