Album Review: The Deer Tracks – Undersvik

It’s been a busy time for the core members of The Deer Tracks. Elin Lindfors became Elin Skeppstedt earlier in the year and embarked on a solo project (Skepp) after completing a couple of tours of Asia with her other band Twiggy Frostbite (see here). On top of that, she has her own label and promotions company Vackra Music. Meanwhile, David Lehnberg was also active with his own solo project, creating some pretty experimental music and co-operating with the likes of Slim Vic to produce some ambient variations. And that is on top of almost non-stop global Deer Tracks touring previously.

So it’s no great surprise that The Deer Tracks – a highly respected survivor on the fast-changing Swedish indie scene that has been around since 2007 – has applied an experimental take on its most recent album, Undersvik, the first in three years. There is a place in central Sweden by that name that has no distinguishing features other than a nearby lake which reputedly houses the Swedish version of the Loch Ness Monster. It is where they recorded the album, apparently in an abandoned school building; they are known to have recorded other albums and EPs at remote farmhouses without communications.

The ten-track Undersvik (Lamour Records, 23 December 2016) is a departure from the electro-pop that The Deer Tracks are best known for and which is evident on early songs like Lazarus and Ram Ram. There’s a lot of fast-paced electronic music, with the complex percussion we’ve come to expect from this band and with a few odd time signatures thrown in. It’s quite different from Twiggy Frostbite, not too much different from Lehnberg’s individual effort and all held together by the omnipresent shrill, utterly distinctive voice of Elin Skeppstedt.

The opening couple of minutes of the six-minute long ‘Passing By’ would suit a space film as the spaceship does a fly-by of Jupiter chased by a comet. Or perhaps the moment when Sandra Bullock lands back on earth and crawls up the beach at the end of Gravity. Then Elin’s voice kicks in to a mesmerising beat and ambient electronics. Possibly the best track on the album.

‘Joijo’ is a heavily percussive/synth piece with so much going on it’s easy to lose track of it (no pun intended) while ‘Northern Man’ has more ‘noises off’ than your typical Shakespearean play and features – I think – a theremin; an instrument that is only rarely played by rock bands and which conjures up a 1950/60s sci-fi B movie or TV series feel to it. “Now David Vincent knows the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun.” (Google it). Oh you millennials, you don’t know what you missed.

Then again, it might just be a saw. Yes, a saw. Elin has been known to play one, with a bow.

In contrast, ‘Gossip’ has more of a pop feel to it and a danceable beat and ‘Home’ continues in the same vein with some attractive, atmospheric keyboard work from David.

‘Little Child’ is a darker piece, again swamped with percussion. Elin hangs her vocals in the air in her unique way and the theremin (or saw) makes a return visit. In the final 50 seconds it changes completely and ends with what could be a classic Scandi Noir soundtrack as the mass murderer creeps up behind an unwitting Saga Norén.

Not to be outdone, ‘The Knight’ starts with another potential Noir soundtrack. This time they’re pulling a van full of mutilated dead bodies out from under the Øresund Bridge. This is classic drone music, and could be Music for Airports Part 2 if Brian Eno will permit me to reference his classic work of the 1970s. Except that it lasts three minutes 50 seconds instead of six hours. The air traffic controllers must have called off their strike.

‘Insomnia’ is more like early days Deer Tracks with catchy synths while in ‘Typhoon’ we’re back in ambient territory. This track might be trying to create musically what it is like to be in one and if so it does a reasonable job.

The final track, ‘Elinikum’, sounds like a new element. I guess it’s a play on words Elin? It is the most experimental track on the album and features a piano playing a very simple series of notes against the background of various loops before finishing with a couple of distant bell tolls. It’s the sort of music that might accompany a new exhibition at Tate Modern and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

I suppose it would be unreasonable to expect The Deer Tracks to replicate their wham bam poppy single-material songs like Ram Ram, Lazarus and Fra Ro Raa / Ro Ra Fraa, even if they are always well received in live performances. They are essentially experimentalists working in and around various different genres and have been doing that ever since their first album, Aurora, and throughout the Archer Trilogy series of EPs and albums. And that is what they continue to do.

Let’s put it this way. If you enjoy British or British-based performers like Eno and John Metcalfe, The Deer Tracks are right up your, er, track. With this new album they remind us that they remain very much at the cutting edge of electronic music in Scandinavia and beyond.

© D J Bentley, 2016-17

An early live performance (2008/9) by The Deer Tracks on the now defunct Channel M in Manchester (also featuring at least one member of Twiggy Frostbite).

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