It’s with pleasure that I greet the return of Swedish quintet The Amazing. Their 2011 album Gentle Stream was one of my favourite albums of that year, becoming something of an emotional touchstone thereafter. Its dynamic mix of minor key melody and intuitive ensemble playing makes it a difficult album to follow but the band’s latest long player Picture You does not disappoint. Fortunately the band’s sonic trademarks, so well executed on their previous outing are once again all present and correct.
Firstly there’s that peculiar mix of happy/sad sentiments wrapped up in the lyrics and voice of vocalist Christoffer Gunrup. Add some clean-toned, melodic guitar solos, unexpected twists and turns, and their knack for distilling echoes of Nick Drake, Talk Talk, Sigor Ros. Factor in elements of shoegaze and the guitar interplay of CSN&Y and you’re getting somewhere close to what makes them special. The secret ingredient though is the jazzinformed drumming. It’s not always at the fore but it underpins and drives from the back. Impressive stuff.
While not steering too far from their earlier work they also manage to break new sonic ground. Check out the feeback coda on ‘Safe Island’, or the prog-like wig-out on ‘Fryshusfunk’. Other highlights include almost torch song-like ‘Winter Dress’, and the blissed-out harmonies and gently stoned guitar interplay on ‘Captured Light’. Not forgetting the ambitious nine minute opus that is the title track.
The band’s confidence in the studio has taken a step up, with polished atmospheric instrumentation blending sumptuously with softly sung vocals. Add to that some tasteful touches including pizzicato strings and understated synths and you’re left with an intoxicating signature sound. In lesser hands they’d be in danger of sounding like preself-awareness U2, but they’ve thankfully managed to avoid such an embarrassment.
The ability to mix melancholy tunes with uplifting spiralling guitar lines is something Swedish bands seem to be particularly adept at (see also The Soundtrack Of Our Lives and The Movements). Without getting too much into psychogeography it must be said there’s a distincly Scandinavian chill and introspection throughout the album. And it’s that (along with their melodic inventiveness), that makes The Amazing amazing. If you’re already familiar with the band and their previous records, this album will hit all the right spots. If you’re unfamiliar, now is the time to make a fantastic new discovery.
Words: Duncan Fletcher