Remember the girl in high school who all the guys wanted to date
and all the girls wanted to be? Female-led Swedes the Concretes,
who play music featuring simple charm and irresistible hooks, have
mastered that same appeal with an undeniably infectious blend of
pop.

Music Reviews

Starting out in 1995 as an all-girl trio from Stockholm, the
now-co-ed octet’s latest release experiments with strings,
horns, organs and unconventional percussion instruments. After a
number of international EPs and label switches, their self-titled
is the Concretes’ first full-length effort.

With a voice whose melancholic and ethereal qualities are mildly
evocative of German avant-garde chanteuse and Warhol acolyte Nico,
Victoria Bergsman leads the band through an album whose organs,
rhythms, lovely backing vocals and varied orchestration make it
difficult to categorize: Upbeat horns open “Seems Fine”
while the next track boasts a slow, twangy intro that contrasts
beautifully with Bergsman’s accent.

Bergsman’s vocals are one of the most compelling features
of the album. Her Swedish accent floats over whatever instrumental
concoction the band produces; its draw is more coy than overtly
sexy, and the subtle passion of the lyrics tingles over
listeners’ spines.

The self-titled album opens with, “Say Something
New,” a host of potential energy that crescendos into a
brassy, percussive symphony –– think of Phil
Spector’s wall of sound production. The next track and first
single, “You Can’t Hurry Love,” is the catchiest
song on the album. Its two minutes don’t allow the band to
stray far from a pop structure, but simple, coarse production saves
the fast-paced beat and playfully effective singing from crossing
the line into bubblegum territory.

The difference between the Concretes’ brand of pop and
their saccharin contemporaries and influences is that the
sound’s sweetness is genuine, and even the simpler tracks
offer a well-developed and evocative darkness that blends
beautifully with the songs’ white warmth.

The songs on The Concretes transition with a buoyancy
that doesn’t forsake momentum or magic. The demure vocals and
almost languid rhythm of “Chico” are at once haunting
and familiar, and the simple lyrics of “New Friend”
(“It’s harder than I thought / Being on my own”),
complemented by soft, woozy horns and Bergsman’s petulant
voice, stir both imagery and pathos, a remarkable feat, especially
for a pop song.

“Diana Ross,” an homage to the former Supreme, is a
marching, slow composition whose most alluring feature is
Bergsman’s accent, which particularly stands out in this
track. “Warm Night’s” waltz tempo and mandolin
lines inspire romantic swaying that, like the band themselves,
seems ultra-sophisticated and out of place in the current pop
community. Hopefully, the Concretes will make like the building
material they’re named for and stick around for a long
time.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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