Love Is All; Urgent Originality Would Be Nice

Josephine Olausson accidentally swallows the mike. (Photo by Paul Rogers)


at the Echo, November 3

Sweden’s recent slew of genial lo-fi indie bands seems to offer American Pitchfork-perusing kiddos a subtle, Euro-eccentric something unavailable elsewhere. But Gothenburg’s Love Is All — whose debut album, Nine Times That Same Song, has been building critical steam all year — suggest that this understated Scando-invasion is reaching saturation. Love Is All transcend the obvious ’80s templates of late (Gang of Four, Joy Division), digging deeper into the cassette bins to rediscover the pigtail-shakin’ vocal quirks of Altered Images and X-Ray Spex, Madness’ ska-lite sax, and the desolately reverbed guitar of super-early Cure. Yeah Yeah Yeahs comparisons have been overdone: L.I.A. are less artsy and stylized than O & Co., offering celebratory yet slightly agitated jingles over a sheen of urgent hi-hat & snare.

In the blouse and bangs of a greasy-spoon waitress, front gal Josephine Olausson’s the focal point between her emo-jeaned (but similarly animated) male bandmates. Whether tethered to her little keyboard or liberated at the stage’s lip, Olausson’s hard-to-decipher, again-and-again-and-again refrains, often bulked up with backing vocals, are obsessively insistent. Her woman-on-the-edge cooing on “Talk Talk Talk Talk” is propelled by Q&A guitar/saxophone and deliciously functional bass flirting with a bustling, subway-train tattoo. On “Busy Doing Nothing,” she becomes Sugarcubes-era Björk guesting against a positive-punk, octave-hopping bass line and sour slashes of ax and sax. Love Is All’s hooks nag their way into heads, impressing with premeditated quantity as much as melodic quality.

It says a lot that such a new band can fill a club so far from home, and they’re affectionately embraced, encore and all. Yet while their skewed glee is eminently charming, a pall of ordinariness lurks over Love Is All on this night, their thumbprint blurry and fast-fading. Not that every band has to make some ultravivid statement — but it helps.

—Paul RogersItchy & Scratchy & EcstaticECSTATIC SUNSHIE, EASTERN YOUTHat Spaceland, November 3

Ecstatic Sunshine is a pair of businesslike young fellas from Baltimore named Matthew Papich and Dustin Wong, armed with two electric guitars, four identical small Fender amps and a couple well-stocked banks of seldom-used delay pedals. They play instrumental pieces occasionally peppered with aahs, woos, grunts and wheezes.

In last week’s preview of the show, I ignorantly linked E.S. with black metal, because a cursory listen to their new disc Freckle Wars (CarPark) brings to mind that realm — where the constant barrage of high-end string squeal produces entire worlds of implied sonority. While Ecstatic’s stuff is similar in effect, onstage they present a much more harmonious, albeit itchy ’n’ scratchy, affair. During several longish pieces ripped out in awe-inspiring precision and cohesion, the pair roamed through dimensions akin to Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica: clanky rhythms and headache-inducing (in a good way) treble-to-11 seemingly grew more closely interwoven as the two played off each other in close or jarring harmony. The disciplined timing and deliberate restriction to small tonal palettes recalled vintage Steve Reich, and a noticeably all-American strain (their unavoidable country roots) frequently gave the overall sound a vibe like a hoedown in a parallel universe. In this way, they tip their hats to guitar visionaries such as John Fahey, whose spacy rural American vistas established links to medieval English court music or the reveries of north Indian ragas.

Ecstatic Sunshine were followed by Eastern Youth, the rather odd veteran “hardcore” band from Japan, who were interesting mainly by default. It was impossible to determine whether they were sincerely trying (and not quite succeeding) to duplicate the aggro-emo sounds of their American heroes Fugazi, or whether their odd perversion of it was intentional. In the end, I figured that didn’t matter much. Shaved-headed, nerdy-glasses-wearing lead singer–guitarist Hisashi Yoshino’s comic anguish and broken-English patter were utterly fascinating in the ferocity of their uncoolness. Eastern Youth are huge in Japan, and the camera-wielding faithful flocked to pay homage.—John Payne

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