Never put stock in MySpace genre tags, but the page for Sweden’s Studio says “Experimental/Afro-beat/Pop” and that’s a decent start. It’s vague enough for almost anything to happen, but with one specific reference point that pushes expectations in an interesting direction. The band consists of just two people, Dan Lissvik and Rasmus Hägg, though they do a nice job of sounding much bigger. Their music has been trickling out slowly since 2001– a 7″ here, an EP there– but somehow none of it made its way to CD until last month. This record on the band’s own label collects versions of work issued last year on two vinyl-only releases, the LP West Coast and the 12-inch “No Comply”.
A lot happens in 70 minutes, as Studio basically functions in two modes. Much of the time they work in long form, winding melodic guitar lines around a core of clean, hypnotic rhythm. During these tracks they explore the trance-inducing repetition of Manuel Göttsching and gossamer lyricism of Durutti Column, and underpin the development with rhythms that allude to Can or the exotic tinge of Bill Laswell’s Sacred System. Hard to say exactly how serious the “Afro-beat” mention on the MySpace page is, but it’s not hard to hear the folding-in-on-itself quality of King Sunny Ade’s guitar in something like the 13-minute “Life’s a Beach!”. There’s even a hint of Nordic space disco in the reserved, easy funkiness of the gently modulating instrumental “Radio Edit”.
These longer tracks, exemplified best by the 16-minute epic “Out There” that opened the West Coast album and is also included here, are huge fields of possibility. Beginning with a surge of synth and rubbery bassline, the distorted guitar in “Out There” alludes to the sort of 80s cop show instrumental Trans Am tried to perfect, but then heads in several more compelling directions simultaneously. A half-reggae beat is at first only faintly suggested, but eight minutes in, Studio go all the way as the bass takes over, the tempo drops by half, and the percussion finds itself bouncing around in a chamber of dub. They hang out there for a while.
What anchors these long tracks and makes them not just bearable but enjoyable over their full length is Studio’s commitment to melody and ear for dynamics. “Life’s a Beach!” is really just an exploration of a single idea– intertwined descending guitar lines over a syncopated groove– but it seems to reinvent itself every few bars with melodic tweaks and abrupt shifts in focus, as new harmonic ideas crash into the beat like waves. The latter metaphor is made literal in the tune’s final section when ocean sound effects come in, the whitecaps speckled with generous handfuls of new age percussion glitter.
When not thriving on a riff into the double-digit minutes, Studio are also a pop band inspired by 80s new wave, with one of the dudes singing in an aching tenor that recalls an earlier, rougher Bernard Sumner. The opening “No Comply”, with its bouncy piano line and singsong lead, almost sounds like the work of a different band, except for the gorgeously recorded bass, which remains consistent from track to track. “Self Service” has a similarly sprightly cast and a better chorus hook. “Origin (Shake You Down By the River)” combines the two sides of the band in one package, repeating a simple chord progression over and over as the guitars work through theme and variation above a percolating polyrhythm, but then vocals appear throwing out mysterious couplets: “Why not push me right through the window/ Broken glass would do me some good.”
As an album, it’s long and all over the place, but somehow tight and disciplined; it feels like one unit working through various ideas and finding new ways for them to hang together. Subtle humor, both in the music and presentation, also helps keep the record afloat. All titles are in English but they’re delivered with a playful twist. “West Side” alludes to Studio’s hometown of Gothenburg, located on Sweden’s left shore. “Life’s a Beach!” is hopelessly goofy, but the music behind it is astonishing.
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