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The Concretes - Layourbattleaxedown

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Artist: The Concretes

Album: Layourbattleaxedown

Label: Astralwerks

Review date: Nov. 22, 2005

Swedish eight-piece The Concretes were 2004’s hidden hit, their self-titled album repeatedly edging its way to the top of my listening pile, its autumnal, faintly rural arrangements and charming three-chord pop songs marking the reappearance of one of independent music’s most reliable archetypes. The group’s languid grace plugs into a continuum of song traceable through the Velvet Underground’s quieter moments (“Candy Says,” “Pale Blue Eyes”), Opal, Galaxie 500, The Pastels, later Jesus and Mary Chain, Empress, National Park and beyond. Combining crystalline guitars with spare arrangements, often wrapped in a heavy glaze of reverb, this tributary of pop music privileges nighttime, evoking the filmy fog that wraps around streetlights, an entirely different kind of ‘urban.’ Indeed, its spaciness might be why a few of the aforementioned artists have managed to inveigle jazz and folk into the sometimes strictly prescribed corpus of independent music – they are all astral travelers.

Layourbattleaxedown compiles singles and b-sides from 2001 to 2004, tracking The Concretes’ career from after their 2000 debut album Boy You Better Run. The group’s sound is identifiable from the beginning: “Sugar” from their 2001 'lost' Nationalgeographic EP is as richly pop as last year’s “You Can’t Hurry Love”; “Free Ride” and “Under Your Leaves” represent the flipside, full of narcotic mumbling and glass-bead guitars that are hung out on the sparest of song structures. If anything, Layourbattleaxedown suggests that The Concretes could do well to pull back on some of their more ornate tendencies. Their arrangements for brass and strings etch their more flashy pop numbers with extra energy, but the diluted pearl-drop textures of their slower songs hint at the glories of swooning near-immobilization. These are suggestive songs, strung out along the horizon.

The pinnacle of Layourbattleaxedown is The Concretes’ cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” where they strip the disco and the tense, febrile vigor from the original, sourcing the welling sadness at the core of the song. Victoria Bergsman’s voice is so understated as to imply a post-relationship, ‘won’t get hurt again’ detachment. It is completely gorgeous, and until The Pastels match it with a version of “Emotional Rescue,” it is my favorite Rolling Stones cover. Whether engaging in reinterpretation (The Concretes also re-record their own “Seems Fine” as a lazy, playful ‘shuffle’) or essaying wistful pop songs, Layourbattleaxedown is completely essential for anyone interested in the development of non-pro pop music.

By Jon Dale

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