The Social; London, UK

For those of us dwelling within the confines of modern day, urban London, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzied rush for the next big thing. Whether it’s the fast fashion clothing stores lining the streets or the glut of free tabloid newspapers competing for attention with pictures of the latest Z-list celeb stumbling out of overpriced drinking dens, the sensory onslaught is as overwhelming as it is intoxicating.

It’s a characteristic that often transfers itself over to music with numerous nightclubs attempting to hawk the same latest house/techno/disco variant or grotty rock dive after grotty rock dive filled with the latest indie pop puppets slinging their guitars around in the hopes of landing their first magazine cover. For a city that can be absolutely everything you want it to be at times, it’s surprising how narrow the musical spectrum can occasionally feel.

It’s on a cool Monday night in April, then, that the sparse audience at the Social, a hipster bar hidden behind the mass commercialism of Oxford Street, finds itself witness to a band quietly performing a sound that’s so far outside the current media-approved noises of the moment, it almost feels shocking on first impression.

Led by a school teacher named Martin Rydell, Surrounded are a Swedish quintet who specialize in crafting their own take on a lo-fi Americana that’s best compared to the likes of Sparklehorse, Summerteeth-era Wilco, and the quieter moments of The Flaming Lips’ back catalogue. Performing with that perfectly balanced, crystal clear style that appears to be the genetic birthright of all Swedes, Surrounded offer the audience a gentle sampling of highlights from their latest long player, The Nautilus Years. On record, it’s a fuzzy, slow paced emotional affair that wears its heart on its sleeve alongside the best of the modern day troubadours. Transfer it into a live setting, and Rydell’s whispering croon takes on a world-weary weight that injects his songs with some much needed gravitas -- one that, unlike so many bands living in the queen’s realm, avoids being pinned down and neutered by recent music history.

An alternative to the dreary norm, then, this also means that there’s little chance Surrounded will be making much headway in today’s one-night stand attitude toward music. There’s little flash witnessed on stage tonight. No neon hues or tight leather jackets for this bunch. No musical hybridization or even reactionary poses against the status quo. Instead, all we get is solid craftsmanship that doesn’t ask for much. They may not cause a stir among the bloggers or find themselves on the cover of the NME next week, but that doesn’t really matter. The only thing that does is the fact that, for just a few minutes, Surrounded are a welcome relief from the storm that awaits us all outside.

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