In recent years, it’s Sweden’s pop music scene that has garnered the majority of the attention. Robyn has launched a full scale invasion with turns opening across the states for acts as massive as Coldplay and more independently minded acts like The Radio Dept. are releasing their best material to date. But there’s something else lurking just beneath the surface of all this Swedish output. There’s always been this dark side to Sweden’s artistic consciousness, manifest most evidently in the work of their great filmmakers. Ingmar Bergman so often dealt with themes of facing death and the great void beyond that point, and Victor Sjostrom’s most critically lauded film, The Phantom Carriage, handled similarly heavy themes of what happens to the people around you when you pass. It makes sense then, that a similar dark crossover was due. Far from the pure saccharine of Robyn’s jams or the wistful crooning of early Radio Dept. tracks, Swedish post-punkers Holograms debut record explores a heaviness similar in tone to those hallowed filmmakers.
It’s not that Holograms are making deep paeans to the hopelessness of the universe, their English-sung lyrics never really delve that deep, but the mood they’re able to conjure through their stark instrumentals and apoplectic lyrics are ones of pure terror, or at least as close as an indie rock band can really get. The way that Anton Spetzer spews his lines across the track we’re left to imagine some combination of Faris Badwan and death itself. The themes invoked are commonplace enough, with Spetzer yelling “Darkness fills my mind” on “Apostate,” but he does so with such malice, so as to recall the pale specter from Sjostrom’s film rather than any of the ghosts that haunt our current interpretation of Swedish based music.
Holograms aren’t just the seedy underside of what’s happening in Sweden’s musical climate, they similarly represent a unexpectedly intense side of releases from Brooklyn’s Captured Tracks label. With such a well defined aesthetic, it’s almost fair to assume that any release on the label will hold, at least in some manner, to their distinct dreamy guitar pop sound, but not so with this record. It’s the dankest chasms of the latest DIIV record but dripping with a sort of anger that much of label wouldn’t begin to approach. Lead single city “ABC City” scorches Holograms’ labelmates with a guitar line and vocal tape ripped straight from the pages of the Joy Division playbook. Yeah, we’re treated to guitar breaks similar to much of the Captured Tracks stable, but where the rest of the label would sit back in a pocket, Holograms blasts forward, careening off the walls and bashing through an album that feels much more brisk than its 38 minute running time.
Much will be made of the album’s obvious allusions to the trappings of post-punk’s past. The stamp of Joy Division seems impossible to ignore. The Gang Of Four inflected basslines similarly present themselves on much of the first half of the record (see: “Memories of Sweat,” “Transform,” “Apostate” and not to mention “Stress” from the second half). The indie rock literati tend to get a bit pissy when bands aren’t truly treading new ground, but this record is undeniably immediate. “Stress” hits you so hard and right in the gut, much like Bergman or Sjostrom might. It’s bassline, though obviously paying reverence to the idols of the genre, drives the song firmly until Spetzer’s vocal take sends it off the tracks. The whirlwind of guitar, noise, and hellfire summoning vocals is enough to make you immediately forget how heavily it’s indebted to those aforementioned acts, or even more recent fellow travelers like Crystal Stilts.
As far as full-length debuts go, you won’t really find one that so aptly conjures a mood as Holograms self-titled does. Though strongly bearing the influence of their predecessors, its a record that represents a dark underbelly of both Swedish crossover music and on the Captured Tracks label roster. In both of those respects, its an intriguing and welcome change, despite the fact that it isn’t the most groundbreaking album we’ve heard this year. It may be just this year’s take on an oft-tread post-punk path, but its a record bursting at the seams with murky riffs, shouted vocals and tempos far beyond your typical new-wave mope. Sometimes you can’t ask for groundbreaking. Holograms is far more than good enough without such a label.