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Organic Intelligence I: Swedish Prog
The Quietus , September 16th, 2021 10:54

Our first subscriber-only newsletter sees Jennifer Lucy Allan singing the praises of Swedish Prog

We’re not luddites, we just feel you deserve better than some unsatisfying algorithmical advice when it comes to music. This is the first edition of our new Low Culture subscriber’s newsletter, Organic Intelligence, which features tQ’s favourite people taking a deep dive into their record collections to offer you DJ bag gold, Discogs bargains and all-back-to-mine nuggets. This month Jennifer Lucy Allan unearths five gems from the world of Swedish psychedelic prog. You can listen to the first Organic Intelligence playlist on Spotify, Apple and Tidal (and remember that all your monthly playlists, as well as your exclusive essays, can be found on the Low Culture Quietus page here). To get access to the Organic Intelligence newsletter, you need to sign up to our subscriber system via the Steady checkout below.

Listen to the Organic Intelligence Swedish Prog Playlist on Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal

My first encounter with Swedish psychedelic rock was seeing Träd, Gräs och Stenar at an ATP age 18, when I had no idea who they were. I bought a CD from one of the band at the merch stand; he was friendly and generous with his time, and unperturbed by my total naivety and love of post-rock. He didn't care that I had no idea who he was and kindly sold me the most post-rocky of their CDs. I had never been to a gig where the band were actually running the merch stand before. It blew my tiny teenage mind.

Träd, Gräs are one in a family of bands that'll never get old for me. I love their full-on clumsy jams; early covers of The Rolling Stones; the Ho Chi Minh chanting bit; their communal psychedelia, whether it's Träd, Gräs or their prior iterations International Harvester, Harvester, and Pärson Sound. However, outside of this found family, there's a whole host of Swedish psych and prog, from the massively experimental to the downright wacky, and out to more well-known names like Bo Hansson. Now, I don't mind a bit of Bo Hansson, but I do have a particular fondness for a certain type of Swedish psych which has a distinctive haze. I like it when there's something off kilter – a slightly weak vocal; drums that don't quite stay in time; a slurred or charred riff; recordings made outside whatever commune they were visiting that day.

When going gets proggy, (and it does get proggy) these tracks go in for music as escape, rather than fantasy narrative. They say no to space opera and Middle Earth journeying (although there's plenty of that available if it's your pleasure) and say yes to a sort of chugging Nordic Krautrock that glows with the silvery sunshine of endless summer days.

Baby Grandmothers – ‘Somebody Keeps Calling My Name’

Extremely rare 7” single available on s/t compilation

This is a massive and irresistible psych anthem, or it is in my book. It is properly psychedelic in that the production makes you feel like you're tripping – the beautiful opening riff heralds the wobbling shimmer of the incoming jam, and the effects on the vocals means they sound like they're trapped in a sort of funnel, perhaps a time warp, echoing from a different plane. Unfortunately, Baby Grandmothers never made anything else nearly this good.

International Harvester – ‘Sommarlåten’

Album track from Sov Gott Rose-Marie.

The sort of chugging rhythm section and killer riff I'd like to loop into one of those ten-hour YouTube versions, it perfectly captures the pure feel of Swedish summer nights, where the light turns gold and things just carry on, easy and eternal, as if the cold never existed. I feel like the only reason it fades out when it does, is so it would fit on one side of an LP. Those wanting a longer fix ought to check the (also essential) ‘Tio Minuter’ (ten minutes) by an earlier iteration of the same group, Pärson Sound. It barely holds together to be honest, which I love due to its euphoric sloppiness.

Träd, Gräs och Stenar – ‘All Along The Watchtower’

Album track from s/t debut.

Pärson Sound became International Harvester, who became Harvester, who became Träd, Gräs och Stenar (trees, grass and stone). Later on the Trad Gras sound softened and swelled, but early on they did covers, like this loose and gnarly version of 'All Along The Watchtower', hammered and hollered out, led by a whacked-out rhythm section. I love the hollowness of the recording, the halting attempt to carry the riff, the absolute messiness of the whole enterprise. This makes Hendrix sound like, well, Hendrix, but even so is utterly raw and impossibly charming.

Älgarnas Trädgård – ‘Framtiden Är Ett Svävande Skepp, Förankrat I Forntiden’

Title track from Framtiden Är Ett Svävande Skepp, Förankrat I Forntiden.

This band name translates to Garden Of The Elks, the album title to The Future Is A Floating Ship, Anchored In Antiquity, while the song title means Two Hours Over Two Blue Mountains With A Cuckoo On Each Side, About The Hours... So. It is really worth getting the whole album, which is an intense cosmic happening in ye olde fayre (don't let the computery font on the cover deceive you). This expansive opener is the immersive focal point of the album, featuring the drummer overwhelming the double riff with florid cymbal crashes and a rolling of toms, before a violin scrapes in for a muddy medieval turn. Note the grotesque sci-fi-ish artwork, which looks like a couple of Judeo-Christian Gods having a sit down on some rocks in Egypt but also in space, during a flyover by a fleet of cheese pieces in tight formation.

Fläsket Brinner – ‘Gånglåten’

Album track from s/t album

It's mad that this is not the grand finale of Fläsket Brinner's otherwise very proggy self-titled album. There is something deeply gorgeous about the earwormy lute-ish guitar melody (written by Bo Hansson) which opens this track. I adore the way the band joins it in a chorus, first organ, then voices, then sax, and the easy swaying pace that swells and blossoms into a dreamy breakdown, giving me feelings of goosebumpy blokey togetherness. Fläsket Brinner means 'The pork is burning'. I asked my pal Jon if that's an idiom or euphemism in Swedish and he said no, it just means the pork is burning.