Taken by Trees | East of Eden
Most Likely To: rewrite the musical world atlas.
Victoria Bergsman certainly has her nerve. Doesn’t she realize that Swedish pop musicians are required by international treaty to fall into one of two categories – fizzy, candy-coated pop with a melancholy center or fuzzy, chrome-coated garage rock? They aren’t supposed to go traipsing halfway across Eurasia and record an eastern-tinged album in Pakistan. That kind of cultural tourism is reserved for the Americans and British, and if such shenanigans are allowed to stand it could lead to all sorts of chaos, such as Chinese klezmer bands or Balinese western swing combos. Such destabilization could be catastrophic – if music listeners aren’t allowed to make easy generalizations, how will they know what they’re supposed to like?
Still, what’s done is done, so now it needs to be ascertained if Bergsman’s shocking breach of protocol was worth it. The answer is a pretty resounding yes. The former Concretes vocalist and sometime Peter, Bjorn and John collaborator has crafted a truly gorgeous album of atmospheric, wistful pop music. Working almost entirely with local Pakistani musicians, Bergsman blends east with west (well, north, actually), and makes it sound perfectly natural.
The lovely, gentle opener “To Lose Someone” is an exercise in exotica which sounds nothing like Les Baxter but manages to evoke his spirit anyway in the manner it conjures up a European’s image of a distant port of call, though Bergsman of course went the extra step of actually going somewhere and working with the locals. In the case of “To Lose Someone,” her fellow Swede Andreas Söderström’s acoustic guitar plucking intertwines with Sufi vocalist Sain Muhammad Ali’s ululations to haunting effect.
On the upbeat “Day by Day,” intricate percussion patterns lock horns with bursts of Pakistani wind instruments, wordless choruses, and relatively sunny verses. “Tidens Gang” and “Wapas Karna” are built on the sort of drones that remind one that Pakistanis and Indians are ethnic siblings no matter how much they might hate to admit it. “Watch the Waves” and “The Greyest Love of All” are further tuneful excursions into the exotica of “To Lose Someone.”
Pakistani music is not the only influence casting its shadow over East of Eden. Animal Collective’s overstuffed psych-folk is also referenced, most obviously in Bergsman’s cover of Merriweather Post Pavilion’s “My Girls,” here retitled “My Boys.” In contrast to the original’s fractured psychedelia, Bergsman’s version is an airy, folky reading that sounds nearly African with its circular percussion patterns. The Collective’s Noah Lennox guests on the woozy “Anna,” which partners densely layered backing vocals with a gentle folk melody and loping backing instrumentation.
Despite confounding expectations of what a Swedish musician is supposed to be up to, Victoria Bergsman has recorded an utterly beguiling album of eastern influenced pop music. If it promises results like this, I say bring on the Balinese western swing.
Listen to “Watch the Waves” from Taken by Trees: