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Surrounded - Safety By Numbers

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 27 / 10 / 2003

Surrounded - Safety By Numbers
Label: Deep Elm
Format: CD


"Never far from beautiful" debut album from Surrounded, who despite their strong Sparklehorse and Mercury Rev influences, actually come from Växjö, in southern Sweden

Things have changed since I was a lad. I can remember when you could tell where a band or artist came from by just a cursory listen to their records. Could The Beatles have come from anywhere but Liverpool, The Beach Boys from anywhere else but California, The Clash anywhere but London? I think not and if they did surely the magical sounds they produced would have been different to suit their surroundings and lifestyles. When I first heard ‘Safety In Numbers’ I was certain that the album was produced in America probably in close quarters to Virginia where Sparklehorse cut their albums as that group and Mercury Rev are the first bands that come to mind when this album is first introduced to the CD player. I couldn’t have been more wrong as Surrounded hail from Växjö, in southern Sweden and the whole album was recorded and produced there. The music Surrounded make does have more in common with the music of Sparklehorse than the pop sounds more commonly associated with Swedish bands like the Cardigans. The group was formed in 2000 by Mårten Rydell (vocals, guitar and the band's songwriter) with Marcus Knutsson on guitars, Emil Petersson on keyboards, Jesper Petersson on bass and Fredrik Solfors playing drums and, it seems, they have picked the right name for the band. The epic sound produced by the band comes at you from all sides. The listener feels, well, surrounded for want of a better word. These really are epic songs. The album starts with a short instrumental, a loud, fat drum beat supplying the rhythm while what sounds like any number of instruments is layered on top, so dense is the sound that it is practically impossible to pick out any one instrument. Then with track two, ‘Exit Serenade’, we are treated to the first taste of Rydell’s vocals, almost a whisper but a deep whisper, almost menacing. The only instrument for the first few seconds sounds like a mellotron before a host of other instruments add different layers and textures to the song. Again, the sound produced is dense, but there is a lovely guitar line running throughout the song and the wall of guitars backing Rydell’s vocals on the chorus is simply stunning. There is so much going on in each and every one of these songs. Running along with that guitar line are sampled strings, at least I think that they sampled, the ‘real’ strings are listed on some of the other tracks. Third track, ‘Diesel Palace’, takes the same road, but with guitar opening the song before Rydell’s low whisper comes in this time, as the track progresses more and more instruments are added to the sound; the guitars on this song create a chilling atmosphere, it’s hard to believe that this is the band’s debut album; the playing is so good. It’s hard to pick out just one high point, all the tracks demand repeated playing but for my money track 4, ‘Pro-Files’, is a favourite at the moment. Lighter on sound, in fact the melody is so fragile it feels like it is going to fall apart at any moment, it really is stunning. But then again the following song, ‘On Top Of The World’, has a chorus which once heard is never forgotten, the melody winds it’s way into your head before going out in a blaze of guitars which make you want to hit the replay button. I haven’t touched upon Rydell’s lyrics for one reason; they are surreal at the best of times and although they are fascinating they can be interpreted in so many different ways that I think it is best left to the listener to make their own judgement as to what Rydell is saying. I came to this album not knowing what to expect and came away thinking that these are amazing songs for a debut album. I have played it over and over and still I find new sounds hidden away in the songs that I haven’t heard before. In short then; epic, intense, dense sounds but never far from beautiful. I would certainly like to hear more from this band.

Track Listing:-
1 Linear Elevator
2 Exit Serenade
3 Diesel Palace
4 Pro-files
5 On Top of the World
6 Cape Perennial
7 Blood Orange Wheels
8 Better Not Be So
9 Dear Nimby Waltz
10 Hashima Skyline
11 All Points Bulletin
12 Neglectarine

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