There are albums that are breathtaking with such grandeur and musical posturing, like The Cure’s 1989 “Disintegration” or Muse’s 2003 “Absolution.” With great moments, full of overwhelming arrangements and bombastic poetic lyrics, listeners are lost in a world-creating soundscape of emotional undertow that there is nowhere to go, impossible to escape. But there is another kind of breathtaking album: the understated. These albums are usually simpler in arrangements, but have a warm allure, a subtle addictiveness, that makes you just want to listen. And in that simplicity, those perfectly arranged songs that are not embellished in any sense of the word, is a soundscape that one willingly retreats towards. “European” (23 February 2010), Sambassadeur’s third album, is such an album; simple and subtle, yet haunting and alluring, one listen and you just want to fall head over heels for the album.
Out of Göteborg, Sverige (Sweden), this quartet (Joachim Läckberg, Daniel Permbo, Anna Persson, and Daniel Tolergård) may have taken their time to release this album, but the wait has been worth the time. Incorporating strings and a dream pop approach to the arrangements of the songs, the vocals and instrument merge into one another in a familiar warmth that makes the album exciting to listen to. Neither rocking nor mellow dramatic, the album walks a tightrope between giving into great Swedish pop sensibility (like Abba’s or The Cardigans’) or indie rock/pop (like The Sounds’ or Peter, Bjorn, and John’s). And it is in that precision, combined with an ethereal feel, that this album generates its subtle, but visceral, undertow that is irresistible.
The album kicks off with “Stranded,” piano into strings, wispy vocals, and steady beat (which all ends in the original piano arrangement); you are drawn immediately into this carefree number. But this feeling of floating free, carefree, is most apparent in “I Can Try.” Out and out, the most popish song on the album, but swaying away from all the conventional pop clichés, this shows the craftsmanship ingenuity of the band’s ability to write a catchy number without selling out their style or substance. Mixed to perfection, the song incorporates a very wide range of different sounds – from synthetic to analogue. Then there is “Albatross.” With a beautiful acoustic guitar and the most heart-tugging string arrangements on the album, it is hard to resist bringing yourself down from your euphoria into this amazingly beautiful sadness: “Once I had it figured, once I knew exactly what to do, and I didn’t really plan to start over once again. I was never worried, I just kept my cool and planned my move, didn’t notice when it struck, I was running out of luck…”
“A small parade has passed, I saw it on my way home…” Persson sings on the opening lines of “Small Parade,” the closing track, and it is exactly the best metaphor for the album. This is a small parade of beautiful songs, which brings a smile to your face, devoid of the overcrowding, jumble of over-the-top antics. “European” is far the best album produced by Sambassadeur, who only get better, more ingenious, and creative with each passing album. Furthermore, this is fresh and relevant, and not an attempt to capture the sounds of the past; instead, Sambassadeur plunges forward, creating a refreshingly urgent and relevant album that should grace anyone’s collection!
3. I Can Try
4. Forward Is All
6. High and Low
7. A Remote View
8. Sandy Dunes
9. Small Parade
Keep up with Sambassadeur at their homepage and MySpace.