Dungen Skit I Allt

[Mexican Summer; 2010]

Styles: psychedelia, post-rock
Others: Life on Earth!, Landberk, Paato

What is this, Herbie Mann? Zamfir? There’s an awful lot of flute. Back on their breakout, Ta Det Lugnt, Dungen made like Jethro Tull 2.0, mythical and joyfully bombastic. But that was then (six years ago!) and this is now, and they’ve signed to Mexican Summer for their new record, which right off the bat struck me as an odd mismatch. Forgive my nightmarish precognitions of a Dungen record awash in shambolic jams, idiot-savant moaning, and tape decay. It’s not that Mexican Summer don’t put out great records, but their defining sound (Washed Out, Ariel Pink, Black Moth Super Rainbow) has about the same relationship to Gustav Esjstes’ polished arena psych as The Fugs did to The Velvet Underground. Dungen is the competent model against which Mexican Summer’s crude, deconstructive imitations have meaning.

In the end, Skit I Allt makes no compromise to the Mexican Summer house sound, but it doesn’t reproduce the exuberance of my memories of Ta Det Lugnt, either. And I say “my memories” because, though “Panda” will probably be seared into my brain until the day I die and seeing Dungen live was like getting a free blow-dry, Ta Det Lugnt was always a little more subtle than it seemed. That subtlety and restraint is on full display for the length of Skit I Allt, which ultimately has a lot more in common with Tortoise than Rush. The familiar ingredients are there, from superb buildups to instrumental pyrotechnics to Esjstes’ buttery voice and a general insistence that points toward some bright and shining future. And then there’s the glue that makes it all work, a craftsmanship and sense of melody that’s most comparable to Sufjan Stevens, that other guy from a country where they like consonants too much.

But the sum of those parts is something understated. The instrumental opener “Vara Snabb,” with its brushwork drumming and suggestions of pan-flutery, sets the melancholy tone. “Min anda Van” gets us back to slightly more familiar territory by adding vocals, and by the time we get to the third track, there’s some actual rock drumming. Skit I Allt peaks, energy-wise, with its title track, an impeccably melodic hook laced with chiming chorused guitar. And there are at least a few other tracks here that, played at full blast and with a few nods to circumstance, are sure to make for a transporting live show. But even the title track has long, slow bridge sections, and overall, this is hardly a “rock” record at all. There are folky meanders like “Soda” and several bits with serious motion to them, but there aren’t any grand gestures — everything is delicate. It’s as if Marc Bolan had gone backwards from T. Rex’s bombast to Tyrannosaurus Rex’s bongos and hippie dust.

Which is not to say this is a step back artistically. Dungen’s aesthetic is inescapably cliquy and crafted, but if you’re a person who might possibly be moved by such an artsy prog-rock throwback, this may be the record to do it, not grandly, but very subtly. If Ta Det Lugnt was like cracking into The Fellowship of the Ring, anticipating a road set out before you that’s going to be full of excitement and fireworks, then Skit I Allt is the feeling of finishing The Return of the King. It’s a pleasant place to be, looking back, but then you realize Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin have entire lives yet to live that you will never see, and the sense of loss fights with the awareness of having just witnessed something grand. The record’s highlight is, appropriately enough, its final track, the beautiful, mournful sunset of “Marken Lag Stilla.” The song’s echoing, melodically refined chorus and expansive guitar work are nothing if not an arrow to another, unseen horizon.

Links: Dungen - Mexican Summer

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