Psychedelic Sounds of Scandinavia
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As a fan of psychedelic music, I always keeping an ear out for something new or at least new to me.
We’re all inhabitants of the internet age and information has never been easier to come across, but often time’s great finds are overlooked due to regional differences, language barriers, the vast amount of music out there (see our Sept. 27 article “Survival of the Fittest” for more on that) and a number of other issues. For these reasons, I’d like to shine a spotlight on some of the psychedelic music of Scandinavia, especially on the more recent artists.
For the last year or so, I’ve stumbled across one great Neo-Psych act after another with a common recurring element. They all share the same geographic region. While Sweden stands out as the biggest contender with the widest array of acts, Norway and Denmark also have a number of bands that deserve recognition.
As you may well know, Scandinavia is renowned for its heavy metal and associated sub genres. There’s enough material and enough artists to cover an entire article from each country and still not do the region justice. However, I was surprised to learn, just as you may be, that the region boasts a wealth of psychedelic acts who cover all sectors of the spectrum. By covering what I think are a few more notable acts, you’ll have a good indication of where to continue. Please think of this piece as something of a rough directory in the search for psychedelia. If you’re a casual fan, merely interested, or maybe even a mega fan like me, then use this as a jumping off point to diving deeper into the rabbit hole.
Like many people, I was exposed to psychedelic music through the Beatles. While not the trippiest, their timeless song Norwegian Wood has always been a favorite of mine. With that in mind, let’s begin with Norway. Generally speaking, a lot of their psych leans on the harder side, perhaps the result of being in the thick of metal territory. This isn’t always the case, and a notable exception is the band Electric Eye. They differ from many of the region by trading heaviness for a more soothing sound. The song “Tangerine” showcases the band’s talents and serves as a testament to their overall style. Beachy guitars and some Eastern instrumentals meld with inviting vocals as they echo out into the ether. There are all sorts of influences here that one can attribute to any number of acts of yesteryear. That being said, Electric Eye is very much their own thing and highly recommend as a great Norway psych band. Check them out.
Over, under, sideways and across the water in Denmark, there’s a nice little psych scene that also deserves to be heard. With so many acts to choose from, I’ve decided on two that really stand out to me and I think you’ll agree once you give them a chance. The first is the group The Sonic Dawn, a band that’s a combination of the past and present. These guys are a groovy little group that are perfect to play for ambiance whilst chilling out and taking it easy. They certainly have some funk that harkens back to a number of early ‘70s psych groups that were heavily influenced by the late great Hendrix. The Sonic Dawn are a bit more lax on effects and distortions (at least to the extent of some other groups mentioned here) but they have a distinctly bluesy sound that someone who might be a fan of John Mayer might appreciate. Blues, funk, and a lot a fun are what’s to be taken from this group more than anything. Some good Sonic Dawn tracks are “Lonely Parade,” “An Easy Heart to Break,” and the shoegazey “Watching Dust Fall.”
Continuing our exploration of psych groups of Denmark, I’d be remiss not to mention the great Baby Woodrose. Of all their outstanding work, my personal favorite album is Chasing Rainbows. Many of the songs on this album (“Let Yourself Go” and “Twilight Princess” in particular) remind me of acts like Strawberry Alarm Clock with similar fuzzy, distorted guitars and trippy tactics. It has everything from jangling, Byrds-style guitars to twangy slides that at first seem more appropriate for a country-western song. However, what’s great about this group is its resilience. Despite having gone through various personnel-lineups over the years, Baby Woodrose always turns out something interesting with each album. Last year, they released Freedom which contrasts the earlier album in many noticeable ways. It’s a great deal harder, but still very attractive if the some of the earlier stuff is a tad mellow for your tastes.
Of all the Scandinavian countries with a multitude of great psych groups, Sweden reign supreme. I’ve spent more time listening to Swedish psych music (old and new) than the rest combined. They have such an abundance of talented and diverse artists that it’s incredibly difficult just pick a few. That being said here are some Swedish psychedelic bands you won’t want to miss.
I’d recommend Death Hawks to just about anyone. Such a cool band, and if you watch any of their videos you will see they put on a great show. In fact, I’d say stop what you’re doing right now and watch the music video for “Behind Thyme.” Something about the song reminds me a little of the Doors, even the lead singer looks like a luminous Jim Morrison off inhabiting the afterlife. It’s a simple yet effective video that goes hand in hand with the song’s spacey atmosphere that’s both relaxing and unnerving at the same time. One might call it dreamlike, but coupled with the music video’s imagery, sinister vocals and trudging bass, I think a soft nightmare might be more applicable. If you like it then definitely check out their album Sun Future Moon.
Now let’s say you’re in the mood for something with more kick to it, a little more rawness. There’s a time to chill and there’s a time to get live, and for that I’d highly recommend the psych rock band Vidunder. They aren’t the most psychedelic but are a hell of a lot fun and deserve a mention. In appearance they look like The Allman Brothers meet Nirvana. In sound they could be compared to a slew of musicians, there’s some definite Blue Oyster Cult vibes for sure. It’s beyond apparent the group was influenced by ‘70s rockers but they’re good enough to stand on their own without coming off like kids cosplaying as better bands from days gone by. They wrestle between straight blues rock and that throw back, vintage style complete with wailing guitars and acid rock riffs. The type of sound you didn’t realize how much you’ve missed it until you hear songs like “A Fooling Dream.” Additionally, I strongly suggest checking out their signature song “Into Her Grave,” and “Threat from the Underground.” The second of which vaguely reminds me of latter-day Yardbirds or very early Zeppelin. The vocalist is far from Robert Plant, but still damn good in his own right.
As we draw to a close, I must give a shout out to the Finnish band Soft Power and their album In a Brown Study. Yes, Finland is not technically part of Scandinavia, but regionally speaking they’re a Nordic neighbor with some great psych music to offer. This particular album has been my favorite album of the year. A unique mix of jazz, funk, and psychedelia, its hands are caught in many musical cookie jars. I find myself going back for repeated listening’s. Each time I find something new and grow to appreciate an overlooked aspect of the arrangement. Always the tell-tale signs of a great album. Upon first listening, I assumed it had been recorded sometime in the ‘70s. There’s a retro flavor to the album ripe with high levels of funk infused with a dreamy, rhythmic feel that is rarely seen today. There’s an element of the music, possibly in the construction of each piece that takes on a cinematic quality. One could imagine any of the track being used in a Tarantino film. The highlights of In a Brown Study include “Avaa #1/MF” and the late ‘60s styled “All in All.” If you’re a fan of jazz fusion, funk, or up for something bold and freaky, you might just take a liking to the album.
Finally, I’d like to wrap up with the group that first lead me on this psychedelic journey. It happened by accident, as many great discoveries do, while searching YouTube for entirely unrelated music. There was a suggestion for a song called “Do You Know What It’s Like” by a musician called Totem Animal. It’s been my jam for the last year. Not one to overhype as I don’t like to underwhelm, I was caught off guard by its effortless impressiveness. The wailing, wandering guitar evokes from me a bizarre sense of emotion as it loops and swims around in a sort of confident loneliness. It’s quite hard to put into words and maybe my description says more about me than the actual song itself. Totem Animal’s YouTube page currently features 3 songs, all of which I’ve listened to repeatedly. I’ve since tried to contact the content creator and scoured Totem Animal’s social media pages for more information about the artist. Apparently it’s all created by one individual and Totem Animal is a side project for that person. So here’s hoping more material is released in the future. Fans of Tame Impala would enjoy the wavy, effect heavy track “Why Won’t You Answer.” However, my absolute favorite remains “Do You Know What It’s Like.” It hits me on all the right frequencies and demonstrates all that psychedelia has to offer. It’s mellow and melancholy, chill and upbeat. There’s enough space in the songs to fill in with whatever sort of thoughts and feelings the song’s engaging and alluring elements illicit from the listener. That I believe, is the essence of psychedelia. Some might say music in general.
Seriously, I have only scratched the surface of Scandinavian Psych music. If your interest has been piqued check out the Scandinavian scene. Is there a favorite Scandinavian psych band you think we missed? Let us know in the comments.