Beautiful, tender heart-puncturing songs of loss, desperation, and deconstruction by love.
“Monochromatic Memories” is a tight record, atmospherically and lyrically coherent and consistent. In fact the only real issue I have is with the title – it makes the album sound bland and that’s just not the case. I can see how it adds to the bittersweet flavours on offer, to the sense of loss and retrospection, of time unstoppably disappearing, but it doesn’t reflect the lushness within.
Solander have been frank about the genesis of this album – in their introductions to the recording of this, their third LP, they say that they “suffered a great loss” when they were last on tour in the States in 2012. Indeed, the gentleman of the band, Fredrik Karlsson noted that “after that it was impossible to focus on anything else”.
Evidently they reached a stage where they were able to record again and, in Spring 2013, they laid down this work in Studio Cobra in Stockholm for A Tenderversion Recording, produced by Christian Gabel. Fredrik and bandmate Anja Linna played with Adam Hjertström (drums) and Albin Johansson (keyboards) who are part of their regular live set-up.
“Monochromatic Memories” kicks off in such sweeping style, with most recent single “The Woods Are Gone”, which I completely fell in love with last month. I still occasionally wish that it would really take off in the bridge, that the guitar would explode with crushing volume to hammer home the sorrow of the narrator witnessing dramatic, unnatural change. But I’m just being greedy. It’s pretty much perfect as it is. The central, reverberating guitar figure and pitter-pattering snare underpin the emotional punch of the images sung by Karlsson “I took the midnight train to see you/but you were not there at all”.
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Second track “All Opportunities” (which was also the lead single from the album) is a slow-burning teaser, an unsettling tune set to swirling synthesisers in which you get the sense of someone slowly searching through an empty house covered in dust sheets, never quite finding the door. There’s a nagging set of lines, however, beginning with “the weight of the fibre crossing your throat” and ending with “I am about to let you spoil”. Not for the only time on this album, you wonder what events lead us here.
“Monday Afternoon” was an instant, intense hit for me. The drum sound on this track (and that’s something that Christian Gabel has captured so beautifully throughout – there’s a really organic quality to it) is delicious, the guitars ring out so warmly, and there is banjo, picked out clearly in all the glory of that awesome instrument. If you’ve never played a banjo roll, your life needs it. What a thrill ! You also need to listen out carefully for the way in which Anja Linna’s strings subtly add pace and then, during the bridge and coda, played over the shuffling drums, they seesaw up and down, back and forth to raise the dynamics of the song. Fredrik Karlsson’s vocals are at their most expressive – I know that they won’t necessarily be to everyone’s taste, being somewhat thin and stretched towards the end, but they perfectly match the mounting desperation of the lovelorn narrator “all eyes sore from crying the night through”.
On “Preludium” Solander begin with evil omens – a “black moon over the sky today/it’s crawling across the roof”, at which Karlsson howls (more of this later) but it soon becomes clear that the singer’s melodramatic take on events is informed by the far simpler collapse of domestic bliss. Delicately-played guitars and harmonising, wordless voices prefigure the loneliness of a man abandoned “I let the radio play in the kitchen/when I leave for work” so that “you won’t mistake the empty house that I left/for a ruin or worse”. There’s a wonderful timing to Karlsson’s delivery in this song – he keeps up such a steady rhythm, in time with the chopping acoustic guitar, that every word of sadness is a punching thrust of the knife. “I get home at six, tired, in the evening/to find there’s no-one there/So I stay awake, ponder her leaving/and the final words she said” he sings, accompanied by slight decoration of piano, a wash of synthesiser, and some quietly played banjo, adding: “I am waiting for her to come back/waiting for her to see/what she left inside of my house”.
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“Black Rug” almost brings a jaunty aspect to the middle of the record – perhaps it just feels that way because of the intensity of “Preludium” before it. Either way, it has a bouncier rhythm and a much more bittersweet combination of guitars and strings, although the sentiment is the same: separation and confusion reign and our central figure can’t be bothered with the rituals of everyday life, he’s too busy wistfully trying to work out where it all went wrong. It’s a well-timed moment of (comparative) levity as we head into side 2…
The intro to “Hey Wolf” is a little change of direction – two minutes of instrumental, pretty pastoral pop (jangling guitars, tambourine, woodblock) preceded by some squirks and bleeps. Our symbolic carnivore is being warned that “the killing must stop” and threatened with the thought that “the woods/where you used to hunt/is filled with the ghosts/ghosts of your lover’s laugh”. Perhaps, for the first time on this record, the subject of the song is definitely in the wrong and has constructed his own demise. Rather than someone grasping for answers, in this case, the problems are all of his own making: “the wool/you’ve eaten turns into your own blood”.
My second favourite track is “Social Scene” – a strange one dominated by space-y synths that you could imagine come from the soundtrack to something of 1970s BBC2 (but they’ve got HANDCLAPS !). In amongst them, and accompanied by yet more gorgeous-sounding drums, Karlsson unleashes the evocative Kristianstadsgatan. I can’t describe or explain why I take such incredible delight in his singing of this Malmö street name – perhaps it’s years of reading and re-reading Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s peerless Martin Beck detective novels (seriously, if you haven’t read any of them please get on with it). Anyway, again Linna’s strings deliver a persuasive pace to the verse and Solander have made a synth-pop gem that gives the second side an important surprise package before the final trio of songs bring us more firmly back into melancholy. Before we move on I really must mention the closing lines – perhaps it’s all the ghostly scenarios and haunting images that have come before, and the presence of natural symbols of danger and threat, but “she’s got blood on her face/I have seen it before” always makes me wonder if the lady so wedded to this “social scene” is a vampire. Certainly the sad little keyboard solo that directly follows those lines adds to the impression of a tragic, lonely figure, something like the heroine from “Let the right one in.” It could of course simply be that our narrator is worried about, or unrequited in his love for, this party animal and her behaviour…
Vibrating organ, inflections of banjo and clunking percussion underpin “London Marbles”, a tale of watching someone slip away, “swimming quite far out … as if your weight was being dragged down”. The saddest thing is that they knew that this would happen: “Never thought you’d come back from London/just to see me.”
Title track “Monochromatic Memories” seems to me as if it is the song that is most definitively about the “great loss” suffered by the band. The opening line “all I have is a picture of you and my Dad/knee-deep, covered in water” sounds eminently true – everyday enough to have slipped through from memory rather than having been imagined. To be honest, for most of my playings of the album, this is where my proper listening stopped. This is partly because “Lighthouse” is my least favourite of the tracks, but also because this one sounds so real, so personal, that it is hard not to let it resonate after it has gone, to give it the time that it deserves. My guess is that this is a very poignant moment: perhaps hard to record, and maybe even harder to play live. Just listen to the way in which Karlsson lets his voice ring out, stronger than ever as he sings “I can see the trees, the plums and fallen leaves/I would give you all/all that I couldn’t give”. I think the album could have finished here, but maybe that would have been too much, and “Lighthouse” was necessary, to leave the record and the band heading back up, on however shallow a gradient.