Review Summary: Eric Berglund (one half of the Tough Alliance) weaves some aural magic with his first solo album.
One thing that can be said with certainty about very independent and very enigmatic Swedish label, Sincerely Yours is that it has a vision. Its artist all share and express similar views of life. Ever since 2006, and labels’ first music release New Waves by the label bosses, the Tough Alliance (TTA, who were previously signed to Service), it became apparent that the sound of the label although tropical, sunshine drenched and utterly optimistic is made by the people who not only have an abundance of musical talent, but are truly standing behind their music and are actually saying something. Over the last four years TTA’s songs in particular were almost manifestos of sorts. Just check out these lines from their various songs: "There’s new waves coming in/Don’t know where to begin/New trophies to win/New ways to fit in” (“Silly Crimes”), “Looking for gold,baby where is that sold/That can’t be bought or sold” (“Looking For Gold”), “You are worth something special, something real” ("Something Special"), “It’s something bright,it’s something pure/Something that you’ve never felt before.” (“First Class Riot”).
Fast forward to 2010 and here is the latest release, the debut album by Eric Berglund, previously better known as the one half of TTA, under pseudonym, ceo (all small letters). What immediately strikes with the opening track, "All Around" is its serious, hymn like ambiance. It is lead by the gorgeous strings playing very classical sounding melody. When the drums actually kick in, they are subdued, muted, very different from anything TTA have done before, but really fitting with overall feel of the composition. And then come the words, as strong proclamation as TTA have ever done before: “I’ve been all around your world/I have bounced on every horizon/Now I’m coming home/To face the demons on my own/I’ve been all around my mind/I’ve been caught up running in circles/I leave it all behind/To challenge space, to challenge time” Wow, OK we are listening! This is not some escapist stuff, this sounds personal.
During the next two songs album relaxes a bit as catchy pop melodies kick in, but still the themes are truth, honesty and love. Speaking of which, “Love And Do What You Will” is one of the highlight of the album, with it’s beautiful acoustic guitar led intros and outros (quite reminiscent of TTA’s B-side to “Neo Violence” single, “Lucky”). As the song progresses, big syncopated beats come in and sweet, wide-eyed vocals immerse us in what sounds like a perfect summer of 2010 pop anthem. As we are getting comfortable in the pop-bliss bubble, here comes ceo to take us back to wilderness. And that’s what the song that carries album’s name, "White Magic", sounds like. Tribal rhythms, chants, animal noises, pulsating floor shaking bass, flamenco guitar and it all builds to a beautiful, KLF’s “Last Train To Trancentral” breakdown-sound-alike melody. “White Magic” is the most “tropical” and therefore the most TTA-like song on the album, and I guess there is no surprise that it is also the only song here that shares the writing credit with Henning Furst, the other half of TTA.
And then as if we didn’t have enough range in the first half of the album, next comes the most unusual sounding beauty “Oh God, Oh Dear”, which boasts long intro, unusual time signature, very organic sounding kick drum and tambourine, and melody-leading violin and cello. If anything it reminds of some of the Beatles’ more adventurous creations, e.g. “Eleanor Rigby”. As gorgeous and infectious everything on the album is, the very centerpiece is surely the first single, “Come With Me”, with its spliced up female and male vocal samples bouncing of each other (male saying “I keep it real”), chugging bassline and most of all, stunning synth strings. If “Love and Do What You Will” is one of Eric’s most infectious songs ever, than “Come With Me” is just (pardon me as I quote Tina Turner) simply the best. Just check out that bridge that leads into instrumental section which starts with soaring, heart-tugging strings followed by piano accompanied by electric guitar’s highly atmospheric riff that wouldn’t be out of place on Interpol’s debut album.
As all the good things must come to an end, here everything actually comes full circle as “Den Blomstertid Nu Kommer”, (song that kids in Sweden sing at the end of the school year until they graduate), ends with same strings played melody which opened up the album. It’s just that now it is played higher, in a different key as if indicating that we’ve been on a journey. And we were, though brief in time, what a journey it was, not a second was wasted! Where does ceo (or TTA) go from here none of us know and neither does he (as he sings on “Illuminata: ‘Future is not my home’”), but one thing is for sure, we’ve been witnessing “something special, something real”.