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Sunday, August 07, 2005

You've Been Starring In My Dreams

2000's EP compilation Boyoubetterunow served as an introduction for many to a remarkable young band from Stockholm called The Concretes. Their first full-length album, The Concretes, went a great deal further, unveiling the band as one of the most important currently making music. For it's pitch-perfect combination of pure pop and more traditionally Swedish atmospherics, The Concretes was awarded the disctinction of being one of my favorite albums of 2003. Prestigious stuff, I know. What's more, brilliantly well-written songs such as "You Can't Hurry Love", "Seems Fine", "New Friend" and (somebody stop me!) "Say Something New" also found themselves seated comfortably among the year's best.

Fast-forward two years and it's time to ask the inevitable question, the one common to any waiting period: where have all The Concretes gone? Friends, I'm here to tell you that the world's most lovable octet is back in the studio working on their sophomore album. I'll confess to feeling more than a little anxiety over their decision to work with Saddle Creek guru Mike Mogis, but I have faith in The Concrete's talents and basic common sense. In other words, they've got good heads on their shoulders, they'll do the right thing. That album is to be loosely expected in early 2006.

In the meantime, there's cause for celebration: The Concrete's have combined numerous B-sides with the entirety of their hard-to-find 2001 EP Nationalgeographic for the release of their second compilation, this year's Layourbattleaxedown. This band is so consistent that many songs on this disc are as strong as what was released on The Concretes. Observe:

The Concretes - "Miss You"

The Rolling Stones - "Miss You"

Would you look there, it's a side-by-side post. The 'cretes first wowed me with this uncanny reworking of "Miss You" last October when I saw them live at Neumo's in Seattle. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The original disco is slowed to the speed of an iceberg floating by, and suddenly the central sentiments of the song don't seem so sleazy. Their version really explains why The Concretes have been playfully described as The Supremes fronted by Nico: lead singer Victoria Bergsman delivers in a detached, resigned tone that is perfect for the song. It makes lines like "I've been hanging by the phone" and "I've been haunted in my sleep" sound even more lonesome. Whereas The Stones' version prided itself on it's psychotic energy and Jagger's effortless portrayal of a tormented ("People think I'm crazy!") spurned lover, The Concretes version actually sounds a lot more desperate, albeit no longer in a sexual sense. I sure would've liked to hear Victoria tackle the Central Park verse though.

Bottom line, this was an inspired choice for The Concretes and the result is fantastic. It ranks just below Feist's reimagining of The Bee Gees' "Inside And Out" in terms of best covers in recent years. Any band that can take a Stones song and make it sound like their own probably has that certain je ne sais quoi, and The Concretes most certainly do.

The Concretes - "Oh Baby"

This gem hails from the aforementioned Nationalgeographic EP. There's something so compelling about the plain-stating of the fact of a failed relationship:

I came to see 'cause I wanted to speak to you
But when I came around you didn't treat me good
So I am going home with something new
And I will find me another way
It's almost a country song in it's simplicity and directness. It goes to show, sometimes just stating simple truths like the one expressed above is exactly what songwriting should be about. Of course, it helps to follow-up with a gorgeous, kick-ass chorus, which is exactly what "Oh Baby" does.

Visit The Concretes' website for some online action. They do a better job of updating their site than most, and some of the captions under their pictures are laugh-out-loud hilarious. If you ever get a chance to see them live, please do!

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