Great Danes

If you had asked me two years ago to name a single band from Denmark I would have come up mostly empty. This has changed since then—not by much, but the ones I can name are all worth knowing about. They also tend to blur into one another: there’s Ghost Society-Sara Savery- Kirstine Stubbe Teglbjaerg- The Blue Foundation-The William Blakes… and then there’s The Rumour Said Fire, off in a very tidy room by themselves, and Sleep Party People, in a blurrier room with a window view.

Of all these, Ghost Society, and their singer Sara Savery, appeal the most to me. The comparison that comes quickest to mind is Opal, which was Kendra Smith’s first band way back in the mid-80s; or Ladytron would do in a pinch, come to think of it. On their debut CD, “The Back of His Hands, Then the Palms,” and a companion single, “Your Hands” (pictured at the left), Ghost Society create an insouciant dreaminess, thanks mostly to Savery’s breathy vocals and thoughtful lyrics, but also to the efficient arrangements of a keyboard, two guitars, and Savery's bass. They perform the songs with near-perfect restraint: they know when to turn up the volume, as on the marvellous “Recognize,” but they also know when to let the space between the notes do the speaking. As important, they also perform with purpose: unlike Savery’s prior band, People Press Play, who seemed adrift as often as not. In other words, they clear away most of the electronic rubbish that gets in the way of most melodies these days like so many damp leaves in the driveway on a November morning. Last year Savery released a solo single, “Love Remains,” which is even breathier and more stripped-down than her work with Ghost Society.

Savery also shows up on several songs from the new-ish Blue Foundation CD, “In My Mind I Am Free.” I vaguely remember them from ten years back, when they were (I think) still based in Denmark and featured Kirstine Stubbe Teglbjaerg on jazzy vocals, Bo Rande on assorted horns, and Tobias Wilner on everything else.  Wilner since moved to Brooklyn, and he and Rande revived the Blue Foundation moniker earlier this year on “In My Mind I Am Free.”  The new CD is at times a bit too shoe-gazey for my taste, but I love the songs with Savery singing, and the song “Ground Control” has some nifty backward-masking! Ms. Stubbe Teglbjaerg, who sang the amazing “Save This Town” with The Blue Foundation back in 2004 (about Christiania, the incredible commune in the heart of Copenhagen), re-emerged recently, with a new single “Drømmenes Lyd”: it’s actually in Danish, and positively shimmers.  Meanwhile, Bo Rande now divides his time between The Blue Foundation and The William Blakes, who have released two quirky CDs with more misses than hits; but the hits (such as the catchy “Science is Religion,” on their “Wayne Coyne” CD) are catchy as all get-out.

Not least of the Blue Foundation/Ghost Society’s accomplishments is the soundtrack to “Tankograd” (2009), which documented the Chelyabinsk Contemporary Dance Theatre’s heroic efforts to keep culture afloat amidst nuclear waste and urban blight. And finally, Ghost Society and the Blue Foundation each show up with exclusive tracks on the “Together We Are Not Alone” compilation, released last year to benefit Japanese earthquake victims. The comp is a credible collection of mostly-American, plus a few Japanese and Scandinavian, power-pop bands, but that formula seems all the more same-y in contrast to Ghost Society’s aptly-titled “Silence,” which stands in the corner by itself with jazz in its headphones, rain outside the window, and quiet longing in its heart.

I fell in love with The Rumour Said Fire’s debut 2009 EP, “The Life and Death of a Male Body,” when I first heard it last June, and just last week I tracked down their follow-up CD “The Arrogant” (2011).  The CD took a bit longer to grow on me, but both are on now firmly on my short list of recordings that I will return to over and over. With shimmering acoustic guitars and tenor vocals that would quaver if they weren’t delivered with such force, The Rumour Said Fire sound unlike almost anything I’ve heard lately. Jesper Lidang and Søren Lilholt sing smart lyrics in a way that reminds me of the way REM did on “Murmur” (easy to grasp, but hard to pin down); it helps that Lilholt looks quite a bit like a young M. Stipe. And their perfect-pitch harmonies, interrupted now and then with a crunchy harmonica, are such that I’ve  seldom heard this side of Simon and Garfunkel.

I’m not yet in love with Sleep Party People, and though it’s only been a couple of days I may never be; but they have also a created an very unlike-any-other sound that’s difficult not to like. Their screen presence (based on the videos I’ve seen on youtube) might give you some idea: in one studio performance they all wear beaks, and another video features a snorkled girl gazing philosphically at blue jeans soaking in a bathtub.  Against a backdrop of fairly standard hummable electro-noise, they mumble in a realm that conjoins the melodic with the unintelligible; the only lyrics I can suss out (barely) are the song titles, which also do a decent job describing the vibe: “We Were Drifting On a Sad Song” (the title track to their debut 2012 CD), “Things Will Disappear Like Tears in the Rain,” and “Melancholic Fog.”

I'll continue to talk about bands from European countries that won ten or fewer medals in this year’s Olympics for the next month or two; and you can listen to some of them between 7-9 PM every darned night of the week on my TBJ Radio random selection.  And two updates from my China blogs: the new AM444 CD, “Rooms,” is out, and it’s jazzier and funkier than their debut EP, and well worth tracking down. And I finally caught up to Snapline’s CD “Future Eyes” a couple of weeks ago: it would have been my favorite CD of 2010 had I known they existed back then.

Video of the week: “Under the Sun” by Ghost Society

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