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V/A - Who Will Buy (These Wonderful Evils)?

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Artist: V/A

Album: Who Will Buy (These Wonderful Evils)?

Label: Dolores

Review date: Jul. 8, 2003

Psychedelic Smörgåsbord

There’s no shortage of vintage psychedelic-rock/pop compilations available these days, but you can usually single out the best of them because they’re the ones that speak with the persistent, excited voices of bands that may have only fathomed the notion of their music’s existence months, or even weeks, prior. They’re the compilations crammed to bursting with songs just similar enough to a hundred other tunes that you know you’ve heard before that they function almost as homage to the possibility of the music itself – not its influences, but the very notes reverberating right then, through the studio or garage. Of course a good psych comp should also sound a note of distinction, and in some cases – Grey Past’s Turkish Delights, or their Southeast Asian compilation, Steam Kodok – it’s that distinction, often regionally or ethnically generated, that works so wonderfully. Still, there’s got to be that element of the former, that bliss of sounds totally eclipsing their point of origin, and psych comps are most effective when they’re sequenced with this spirit in mind. As one song follows the next, pop structures crack a little at first and then a lot, and soon all of the sugary fuzz begins to pour forth. In 1965 or '67 or '69 it was energy as allegory – both representative, and a working part, of all that was cracking open and spilling out in politics and sexuality and social freedom. A good psych comp works by collectivizing the memory of that thrilling instant of fissure and capturing its subsequent spirit of possibility.

Who Will Buy (These Wonderful Evils)?, a two-disc document of Sweden’s mid-late 1960s psych/pop scene and its rash of 21st century imitators/descendents is, for my money, a decent psych comp. Upon listening, it becomes quickly apparent that Sweden’s more commercially viable music of the era was much more in-step with British and American pop and psych than what you’ll find on the aforementioned Grey Past compilations or the Love, Peace, and Poetry collections from Japan or Brazil. Nevertheless, there’s a regional charm to the proceedings that feels in-step both with Sweden’s spirit of progressivism and the long summer nights north of the Baltic. Unfortunately, nothing here approaches in quality or sheer originality the recent outpouring of reissues from Stockholm’s late-60s underground – the Pärson Sound, International Harvester, and Träd Gräs & Stenär camps – but as a kind of supplement, it’s interesting to see what the commercial pop set was doing while Boanders Persson and company pursued their glorious drones at the Moderna Museet.

Bafflingly – though I suppose not from a marketing standpoint – the emphasis of Who Will Buy (These Wonderful Evils)? is given to the contemporary crop of Swedes who rule the first disc (I should note that they do, however, get the uglier side of the reversible record cover). Disc two is home to seventeen vintage tracks that run the gamut – and do so, to a greater extent, sequentially – from mellow, brassy euro-pop and Beatles jangle to more loosely improvisational and far-reaching psychedelic rock. There are high and low points in each range, and many decent contributions nevertheless fit squarely into all-too-familiar camps. The Wizard’s “See You Tonight,” for example, is a harmonious, late-summer Byrds-ian pop keeper, while The Jackpots “King of the World,” with its tinkling bells and saccharine optimism, yearns dully and too obviously after the Beach Boys – it’s one of those songs you loathe for being both dreadful and catchy.

There are a handful of pleasant pop nuggets to get the collection rolling, but things don’t get really moving until Fabulous Four’s wicked cover of the Stones’s “438 S. Michigan Avenue,” which incorporates effects that sound like backfiring engines and exploding artillery over its wandering bass-line and guitar cyclone. Fabulous Four kick off a short-lived, but romping set of adventurous and eclectic psych that’s the true heart of the collection. The standout track is a fast-moving, hypnotic sitar-driven pop song, one of the few sung in Swedish, by the duo Charlie och Esdor. Steampacket’s “Fruitseller Oldham’s Song” is nearly as good, a ripe and bouncy harvest-time jaunt with a trilling flute and shouts from a farm market, drowned out by a distant choir of children. “You will sing! You will dance!” Steampacket shout, “You will like it!” At its center, the collection parallels the mood of the era aptly – it saunters and tilts all over the place, from Pugh’s somber, glistening wall of bombastic guitar to the loose, funky horns of Mecki Mark Men’s “Midnight Land,” and nothing in the sultry, euro-pop wind-down of the final few tracks, by Hansson & Karlsson and The Deejays, can touch it. The vinyl transfers are slightly scratchy and imperfect, but the best of these songs succeed by virtue of their imperfection. In general, bravo.

The disc of contemporary Swedish pop/rock is less cohesive, showcasing a new wave of Scandinavian Invasion sounds, but one with more divergent leanings. Even when they don’t exactly match-up with their 1960s ancestors, the best of the newer tracks on Who Will Buy (These Wonderful Evils)? wear at least some of those influences on their sleeves. Caesar’s Palace’s “Subhuman Girl,” for instance, manages to temper its driving, revisionist proto-punk with sheets of psych guitar. The warm production values of Häkan Hellström’s “Den Fulaste Flickan I Världen,” are a blissful change-up from the scratchy vinyl transfers of the other disc, but they remain loyal to its aura, and Alf’s “Mitt I Malmö City” does the same with its evocation of Malmö’s bright lights. Many tracks are equally pleasant – José Gonzales’s “Deadweight On Velveteen” is a dark, somber, Nick Drake meditation, not unlike folky, fellow Scandinavians Kings of Convenience – but they have no readily apparent touchstone on the other disc and end up feeling slightly misplaced. Much more awkward is the punchy, juvenile girl-punk of Hello Goodbye (“Make me wet!” is a lyric that doesn’t book-end comfortably with “Fruitseller Oldham’s Song”) or the terribly overrated political punk/buzz-spunk of the International Noise Conspiracy. There are bands of weighty marketing capital – Soundtrack of Our Lives, who deserve to stay, and Nicolai Dunger, who probably doesn’t – meant to snag an eclectic audience, but there are enough loyal contemporaries showcased that the collection could have ultimately done with some selective trimming. All in all, though, the two sides complement each other pretty nicely, and there’s a hefty amount of good pop and psych to keep one listening until sunset – whenever that comes.

By Nathan Hogan

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