When I was listening to this album for the first time the thought came to me that I could listen to it all day… in fact, I thought, I could listen to any of Kungens Män’s music all day. They are one of those bands whose oeuvre is peppered with great music that is always interesting and rewarding no matter how many times you play it. Weirdly this has me in the claws of a reviewers dilemma. This is because ‘Dag & Natt’ (Day and Night) is a concept album of ten improvised pieces that are played with the express idea of getting you through the day (and night) and, if my previous experience of Kungens Män’s music is anything to go by, I’m only going to truly appreciate this once I’ve immersed myself in this sprawling double album after a few months, by which time it will be too late for a review.
OK so I’m going to have to make a judgement call on this and say from the outset that this has all the makings of being a really great suite of music that will indeed have you listening again and again, whether these tracks will accompany you on your journey through the day only time will tell.
The album opens with ‘Morgonrodnad’, and so the day begins with the moment we wake up. There is certainly a sense of disorientation as the band gently guide us into consciousness with a series of flourishes respectively on guitar and sax which also act as a great laid back start, as the jazz grooves caress you into a state of listening, which you find yourself doing very quickly. The sax on this track is really good and gives it an added dimension that I am really enjoying. I often find a sax distracting in a number, here it is driving it along. There’s also cow bells… in a good way! I really think the rest of the album is going to find it hard to top this early high which, the longer it goes on the more is fills you with warmth and positivity; a beautifully sculpted track.
Second track, ‘Dag’, takes it up a notch both in tempo and intensity. This is a bright open track which, synthestetically, would be the colours of the Swedish flag, bright yellow and light blue. I really like the grinding bass at the bottom of the mix acting as a buffer for the rest of the band and allowing them to really express themselves. The more this track goes on the seemingly more exciting it becomes as it builds up momentum… the fact that this is all improvised just adds to the whole thing!
‘Samtidigt’ is a slower and altogether more considered number. The momentum from ‘Dag’ has been lost and I guess there’s a late afternoon sort of melancholia to the track, if this is the part of the day it is representing. There is a real sense of slow, almost imperceptible from minute to minute, disintegration in the track suggestive of ominous times to come. It’s still very together but the underlying current is clearly there.
‘Aftonstjärnan’ is the longest track on the album and in many ways the most difficult for me to describe. In one sense there is a simple and recognisable motorik beat passing through the whole of the track, which in and of itself is essentially a great thing. Around that there is a slow building mood on which, as I’m only on my second listen, I cannot decide whether it is signalling a gradual sense of foreboding or building up to some great release. This, of course, shouldn’t detract from the idea that this is a terrific track to just kick back and listen to purely in musical terms, because you can really drift off with it whatever time of day it is I imagine.
That’s the end of the first album of this double and I’m taking the unusual step of taking a break to let that side settle in before continuing… cannot do this justice in one sitting…
A few hours later and I’m back… bring on the night!
If the ‘Dag’ album began in a laid-back fashion that’s as nothing to the ‘Natt’ album, the title track of which is hyper-chilled and just simply beautiful. I’ve already used the word ‘sculpted’, but that’s just what the tracks in this set appear to be, again something of a wonder given that these are improvisations. It’s like Kungens Män have some sort of sonic 3D printer that produces a finished layered product with depth and soul already installed.
These things are abundant in ‘Mänen Tur och Retur’ which is heavier and more psych, with a hint of stoner, in nature than the jazz of ‘Natt’. The recurring theme of the track is one that could be typically Swedish, redolent of the likes of earlier Träd Gräs ooh Stenar or Pärson Sound, or Hills if you want a more contemporary comparison. Either way this is imbued with the band’s native influences, acting as a reminder of where they are from both culturally and spiritually.
This continues in ‘Ett Tappat Perspektiv’ which turns up the funk channel and lets rip with some more urban sounds as the groove of the track really gets into your head (and body). There’s a hedonism to this track which would suggest to me that its the part of the day where we are out and enjoying ourselves. As the track progresses it gets bigger and more intense… really ramping up the energy to a real point of climax before lying back in a tuned out haze at the end.
After that, relatively short track ‘Mara’ must surely represent the come down. The mood turns darker and the demons begin to mass on the edge of our consciousness. There’s a relatively large amount of space in this track suggesting a certain emptiness… the removal of what I’m not sure at this point… but it doesn’t bode well.
After that ‘Vargtimmen’ feels really direct. There is a clear motorik beat which drills right into you, and this is a much more stripped back Kungens Män again, really telling it like it is. On the edges though there is a hint of fuzziness, perhaps of uncertainty. So while there is a clarity here there is an almost undefinable edge to the track which I’m sure can be pinpointed more effectively on multiple listens, as it is it’s a great hard repeato psych track that would grace many a playlist.
Completing the cycle is ‘Cirkeln är Slut’ which, at first listen, is one of those tracks that you are sure you have heard before. The riff is very familiar as are the guitar licks. This may be because there is such an easiness to the track as it glides effortlessly through your consciousness. Perhaps we’re at the point of dreamful sleep, if we are then that makes perfect sense here. Again there’s that wonderful sense of the band creating sonic sculptures that really marks this album out for me.
With ‘Dag & Natt’ Kungens Män have created a cycle of improvisations that they claim can accompany us through the day and night. Whether they have or not remains to be seen since a few listens in most definitely not enough to judge whether this is the case. Nevertheless the signs are promising, and certainly from a purely musical point of view this is a set that would be remarkable were it recorded in the studio in the usual way. That these are spontaneous expressions of the bands collaborative creativity is a mark of their individual and collective ability to deliver something that I am sure will be challenging me to decipher its meaning for many listens to come while, at the very least, enjoying the music.
‘Dag & Natt’ is available for pre-order now at Adansonia Records as follows:
– 350 x white (side A/B), black (side C/D) vinyl, 180g, hand-numbered, incl. stickers
– 150 x clear/white split (side A/B), clear/black (side C/D) vinyl, hand-numbered
incl. stickers, folding card, handmade screen print
LP’s are in fully-laminated thick matt sleeves and black padded inner sleeves. Any vinyl purchase includes a high-quality download.
– 500 x 2CD (Kungens Ljud & Bild)