Since ax-wielding, flesh-piercing Norse gods once ruled Scandinavia, it’s not surprising that black metal still thrives today. But while the land of the midnight sun has recently spawned a slew of guitar-shredding warlords, rural southwest Sweden has become a breeding ground for gentler beasts. From this bucolic countryside cometh Dungen, whose music sounds like it was unearthed in the type of poppy field that inspired both Europe’s late-’60s acid-rock scene and America’s concurrent psychedelic explosion.
At times, it’s hard to believe that Dungen is essentially a one-man show: 25-year-old Gustav Ejstes plays the majority of the instruments on Ta Det Lugntand Dungen (including fiddle, organ, bass, drums, flute, and mellotron) while heavily multitracking his vocals Phil Spector-style. His third album, Ta Det Lugnt (whose title translates, like a laughable Google screwup, into “Grab the Calm”), is a richly rewarding passage through the last five decades of American music history, with a lingering stopover in the Pet Sounds era. Ejstes’ lyrics are only in Swedish, not really inviting sing-alongs, but his songs sometimes sound like kraut rock: Album opener “Panda” boasts the trippy, controlled chaos of Amon Düül and Can. “Festival,” meanwhile, starts as a barnyard jug jam before fading into a ragtime piano lick — a curious refrain that reasserts itself midway through the title track before melting into loose-limbed, sax-driven, Coltrane-esque experimentation. “Lejonet & Kulan” plays to an even more esoteric audience, an Arvo Pärt-meets-Boards of Canada fusion that builds to a baroque organ riff. Each track is a genre-bending, multiculti reach-around, an expansive psych-rock gem that deserves all the awards of an arena — flashpots, lasers, floating pig balloons.
Dungen’s self-titled debut, which was recently reissued by Sweden’s Subliminal Sounds, is less an album than a sketch for Ta Det Lugnt, with three lengthy freak-outs that have been woodshedded into inscrutable slop. This psych-pop-free-jazz-neofolk-sitar-raga mélange was previously available only as an import, and maybe it should have stayed that way: Its unwieldy sprawl (“Midsommarbongen,” which we can only hope translates as “A Midsummer Night’s Bong,” goes on for nearly 20 minutes) will probably keep it safely out of heavy rotation. Considering Sweden’s generous federal-arts-funding history, one can only imagine angry taxpayers demanding to know why their hard-earned krona funded Ejstes’ journey through these doors of perception.
Grades: Ta Det Lugnt, A-; Dungen, C+