After Abba

From June 3-19, Stockholm Sweden celebrated Crown Princess Victoria’s marriage to her personal trainer Daniel Westling, with a festival of the arts called “LOVE Stockholm 2010.” If financial circumstances, scheduling or a no-fly list prevented you from being there — as they did us at the Manitoban — we suggest that you commemorate the fairytale wedding of this distinctly real-world princess (she struggled with anorexia and is dyslexic) by partaking in some of Sweden’s greatest popular music exports. By no means do we profess to offer forthwith a complete and detailed survey of Swedish popular music — we aim only to draw attention to several choice ambassadors. ABBA, being no longer extant and already widely-known, will be omitted from this discussion, as will Ace of Base, whom we can only hope are no longer extant.

Few Swedes have had the Anglo-American success of Robyn. Her late-nineties singles “Show Me Love” and “Do You Know (What It Takes)” reached the top 10 in Billboard’s “Hot 100.” While international interest in her faded in the years following, her 2005 album Robyn earned enthusiastic praise — Entertainment Weekly gave it an A and suggested she deserved a spot at the top with Mariah Carey and Madonna — and her latest album, Body Talk Pt. 1 [EMI: 2010], has received wide, if restrained, critical acclaim. She remains one of the biggest names in modern Swedish music.

Perhaps Sweden’s most numerous musical exports in very recent history have been indie-pop artists such as Peter, Bjorn and John; Dungen, I’m From Barcelona and Jens Lekman, all worthy of their own studies. A variety of factors, however, constrain our discussion to one very well-known group, The Concretes, and one less-known artist, Emil Svanängen (alias Loney, Dear).

Loney, Dear is Sweden’s answer to Ron Sexsmith. No, he’s probably not as good a songwriter as Sexsmith nor does his music have as wide of an appeal, but Svanängen’s baby face, unashamed sentimentality and vulnerable voice certainly inspire comparison to the Canadian. Svanängen’s second label release, Dear John [Polyvinyl: 2009] has received favourable reviews from SPIN, NPR, Pitchfork and others.

The Concretes may need less of an introduction. What is now an octet was founded in 1995 in Stockholm by Victoria Bergsman, Lisa Milberg and Maria Eriksson. Membership increased over the following years and the group achieved some renown when their songs were featured in commercials and films. The Concretes sound like the “pop” end of “indie-pop,” and that’s a compliment. While somewhat apathetic vocals in chic-sounding Euro-English undoubtedly attract many hip fans and the group’s collective style of dress would be at home in Wallpaper magazine, their music is widely-appreciable, catchy and fun. Former lead-vocalist Victoria Bergsman’s voice was featured on Peter, Bjorn and John’s hit “Young Folks,” so chances are you’ve already heard part of The Concretes. Bergsman, regrettably for us, left the group in 2006.

Scandinavia and Finland produce a great deal of the world’s metal, but Sweden doesn’t dominate the Nordic scene here as it does in other genres. While Sweden produces metal that is categorized as everything from doom to progressive (the boundaries of each of these sub-genres are angrily contested throughout the Internet), two examples must suffice for the purposes of this article. The first, Meshuggah, is connoisseur’s metal, praised by Pitchfork as “guaranteed to send our Abe & Fitch pals screaming for their Paxil.” Their latest album is obZen [2008].

Hammerfall is just the opposite: brainless, bombastic power-metal, accompanied by music videos that almost always are set on a large rock or mountaintop. It’s difficult to find a review of a Hammerfall album that comes from a source without the word “metal” in its name, likely because only power-metal fans would consider them. There’s no comparing Hammerfall to Radiohead, but that doesn’t mean both don’t warrant listening sometimes. Their latest album is No Sacrifice, No Victory [Nuclear Blast: 2009] and the rhetoric only gets cheesier from there.

The last thing most North Americans would associate with Sweden is rap, but it thrives there. As one might imagine, many Swedish rappers are white and might look more at home at Haight and Ashbury than on 106 & Park, like Looptroop Rockers (formerly just Looptroop) and its constituent artists Promoe, Supreme and Embee, who fit this description. Looptroop Rockers’ focus on social issues, their DIY approach and hipster appearances suggest a place in “alternative” hip-hop, but they’ve achieved something like mainstream success in Europe.

The preceding, of course, is only a smattering, a smidgen, several smithereens of an introduction to modern Swedish music. Lisa Milberg of The Concretes has a series of mixes on, and her mixes include many Swedish artists. Nuclear Blast Europe’s YouTube channel features many Nordic metal groups, though there is no guarantee of their Swedishness. Swedish hip-hop is more scattered, but Promoe, Chords and Ison & Fille are good artists to start with.