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Life on Earth! - Look!! There is Life on Earth!

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Artist: Life on Earth!

Album: Look!! There is Life on Earth!

Label: Subliminal Sounds

Review date: Jul. 9, 2007

Despite the fact that Life On Earth! is the self-described solo project of Dungen multi-instrumentalist Mattias Gustavsson, their debut album Look!! There is Life on Earth! actually sounds much more like a group effort than his regular gig. While he may be the main singer and writer behind these songs, Gustavsson isn’t quite as much of a control freak as Dungen mastermind Gustav Ejstes (who, along with Mia Doi Todd, is one among many musicians credited on the album). Life on Earth’s unabashed homage to late-’60s psychedelia and hippie idealized feels like a communal effort, true in both style and spirit to the music that it emulates.

Gustavsson has no qualms about revealing his debts and intentions: On the opening track, which serves as something of a manifesto for what will follow, he instructs us to “wonder at the beauty of nature,” inviting the listener to join him in a celebration of nothing less than “Life on Earth.” While he avoids borrowing too heavily from any one source, Gustavsson’s songs are perhaps most similar in tone to the paisley pastoralism of Vashti Bunyan and the Incredible String Band. On the other hand, there’s a clear dose of West Coast rock in his sound, with the thick vocal harmonies and Dungen-style guitar pyrotechnics evoking Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Jefferson Airplane. Crosby’s solo album If Only I Could Remember My Name also seems to be a touchstone here, as Gustavsson emulates its use of echo-laden wordless vocals. While standard pop-song format dominates the album, the band has plenty of chances to stretch out: Almost every track here contains an extended instrumental interlude, often diverging from the vocal melodies to make up a separate complementary section. Other attempts at breaking song structure a less successful; the haunting acoustic ballad “You are There” is rudely interrupted by several minutes of musique concrete and inaudible mumbling, and the album’s final track is an unlistenable half-hour of a heartbeat accompanied by some odd metallic noises.

While Life On Earth! is a musically strong album, well written and inventively arranged, much of its success depends on how well one can swallow Gustavsson’s wide-eyed idealism. Writing about frolicking with squirrels and lazing in hammocks may have seemed appropriate in the ’60s, but can hardly help but feel a bit contrived in the present. Luckily, Gustavsson seems naïve and unselfconscious enough to make it work; it may also help that he sings in English, bringing a kind of innocence to the material that would be more difficulty for a native speaker to convey. There’s nothing ironic or insincere about the nature-loving, blissed-out attitude that dominates Look!! There is Life on Earth. It’s a successful heartfelt paean to love, peace, and all that other crazy hippie stuff.

By Michael Cramer

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