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Taken By Trees - Open Field

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Artist: Taken By Trees

Album: Open Field

Label: Beggars Banquet

Review date: Sep. 10, 2007

A recent interview with Victoria Bergsman, former lead singer of Stockholm’s The Concretes and sole member of Taken By Trees, begins with the question of why she left the group. Among other things, Bergsman mentions that she “started to lose belief in our ´democracy´ approach. I don’t think you can create something really true in a big group. I think I create art better on my own, otherwise you must compromise all the time and that won’t lead you anywhere.”

Moderately successful, Bergsman’s former group issued all three of their LPs stateside on Astralwerks and had their music featured in Target ads. By all available evidence, The Concretes are a band that woke up one day as a brand, and behaved accordingly. Thinking this way is easy and not totally accurate: far more likely their mild commercial success (i.e., no more day jobs) is of a piece with mild irrelevance.

Open Field sounds, naturally, very little like The Concretes do now, and not a little like The Concretes did on their earliest releases: the arrangements, melodies, and phrasing are simple, uptight, and very white. Bergsman’s voice is the focal point on all tracks but the title track, and its ghostly, grainless tone makes up in sheer expanse what it lacks in texture or affect. Were “Open Field” the album’s centerpiece, Taken By Trees could be mistaken for a band in the High Llamas mold: a chamber orchestra emerges from an interlocking strings-and-flute figure that calls to mind the seasonal interludes that break up the chapters of Breaking The Waves. “Open Field” is a cinematic take on John Martyn-esque English folk revival stuff, and what it first appears to be, a synthesis of the kind of orphaned content typified by album blogs dedicated to just that moment, reveals itself by the end of the song as a slight suggestion of a narrative that’s never made explicit.

Taken as a whole, the album is far from curatorial or self-effacing. Most of its songs are built around guitar and voice but feature substantial arrangements, arrangements built from a coterie of instruments that range from marimba to strings and which are all but inaudible when listening to Open Field at the whisper volume it seems to demand. Bergsman’s indie-pop craft is far from social. While the album’s stark songs remain enjoyable throughout, she mistakes insularity for solitude. Of course, this problem is all but endemic to indie. Bergsman’s’ treacly Northern stoicism falls somewhere between Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell (whose “Lost and Found” is covered here) and El Perro Del Mar's Sarah Assbring; while she lacks the former’s grandiose ambitions and the latter’s exoticized relationship to Spector-ized teen pop, Bergsman’s attention to form is easily as fine-tuned. The notes that make up this album's abbreviated, Euclidean melodies are all but attack-less, floating and decaying like noise-absorbing embers. There’s a staged stillness that pervades songs like “Too Young,” a treehouse isolation that elevates a nostalgia untethered by experience. This is where Taken By Trees, as a project, diverges most from the artists mentioned above, and yet it’s the point at which this difference means the least.

While the album’s arrangements are surprisingly rich, the songs themselves seem to become increasingly spare with each listen, as if spooling off a little more content with each successive listening. Although it’s unrealistic to say that this is an album without compromises, it seems to become less so with each listen. The irony here is that the album’s basic conceit compromises it from the outset.

By Brandon Bussolini

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