Review & Full Album Premiere: Kungens Män, Trappmusik

Kungens Män trappmusik

[Click play above to hear the premiere of Kungens Män’s Trappmusik, out today on Adansonia Records.]

Ye weary souls in search of psychedelic serenity, look no further than the Trappmusik, the latest in a line of offerings from Swedish explorers Kungens Män. Issued through Adansonia, the seven-song/78-minute affair is a mostly-mellow blissout, well beyond the point commonly reserved for consideration as “manageable,” but who cares when the waters they wade in — or scuttle, since these kingsmen seem to have a thing for shellfish, and, one assumes, puns — are so warm? Take the 15 minutes of utter joy in “Vibbdirektivet,” a directive of vibe that’s not only easy to follow, but an utter joy in the doing, with unashamed guitar shimmer and a subtle rhythmic luster to match.

Its subdued take is enough to make even the snare and fuzz meandering of 10-minute opener “Fånge i Universum” seem active by comparison, topped with cosmic echoes of psaxophone (that’s a psychedelic sax for those who can dig it) as it is, and one supposes that cut is more active in its way, but in terms of general scale, it’s still much more about setting an atmosphere of patient, graceful flow than shoving its way into the vacuum of space. Dug in and jazzy in its spirit, Trappmusik is affecting in the manner in which it unfolds across its span, from that leadoff to the trip-hop-via-krautrock-and-more-sax progginess of the subsequent “Senvägen,” which leans harder on the bassline for more of a nighttime richness but still finds its way into the trance of the 2LP overall.

The album is a kind of semi-departure for Kungens Män, who were last heard from only months ago on Dec. 2019’s Hårt Som Ben (discussed here) — which itself followed Feb. 2019’s Chef (review here), which followed Aug. 2018’s Fuzz på Svenska, which followed July 2017’s Dag & Natt (review here), which followed 2016’s Stockholm Maraton, 2015’s Förnekaren (review here), and so on through a slew of live and studio offerings dating back to their start in 2012 — in that it tips the balance in their sound in this mellower direction, but it doesn’t seem like that should be read necessarily as a statement on the band’s part of some future direction.

Rather, Trappmusik appears to have been recorded during the same session in May 2019 as Hårt Som Ben, at Silence Studio in Värmland, Sweden. The band — a listed lineup of drummer/percussionist Mattias Indy Pettersson, synthesist/programmer Peter Erikson, guitarists Hans Hjelm, Mikael Tuominen and Gustav Nygren, with contributions as well from others — reportedly recorded 13 hours of improvised music over the course of three days with engineer Isak Sjöholm, so indeed Trappmusik as the second may not be the last LP to come from that session, but is less perhaps an indication of intent going forward in terms of the band’s growth than it is a question of how this particular release was whittled down from those expansive recordings.

Its purpose is contained, in other words, and thus the editing of the material becomes an instrument unto itself. The framing. The process of selecting and choosing to highlight moments like the shift from airy guitar adventuring into percussive chill in “Tricksen för Transen” and the folkish keyboard of “Främmande i Tillvaron” — the latter entirely appropriate in its position as the centerpiece; its sunbaked golden hue not only rests smoothly alongside “Vibbdirektivet,” which follows, but gives Trappmusik a manifestation perhaps even more fitting than its own 17:50 title-track, which closes in much jazzier and more generally uptempo fashion — plucking these pieces out from the hours of what was tracked speaks to a sense of meaning behind the sheer construction of Trappmusik itself.

Kungens Män

Inherently it is a record that seeks to tell a story or portray an idea, and that is not only rooted in the traditions of Swedish folk and progressive and psychedelic rock, but in the fleeting ambience of these moments as they’re captured — there and gone, sunlight or moonlight, in the flight of escapist fantasy from the rigors and anxieties of the day-to-day. They call it their “chill out album,” and fair enough, but that doesn’t necessarily encompass the entirety of the mission, and it’s also not as if Trappmusik is only doing one thing for all of its rather considerable span either.

“Senvägen” and “Främmande i Tillvaron” could be different bands for the sonic disparity between them, and though the five-minute bass, guitar, drum mood-setting of the penultimate “Lastkajen” is hardly more than an interlude sandwiched between “Vibbdirektivet” and the expansive “Trappmusik” itself, its purpose in setting up that turn is further evidence of a master hand at work in terms of setting the overarching, grander progression of the album in motion even if the closer is inevitably going to consume an LP side on its own. That would be, presumably, side D, and with a more active bassline, far back toms and a returning saxophone in a suitable bookend to “Fånge i Universum,” the album finishes on maybe its most movement-based note.

The bass and drums bounce, and the guitar and brass seem to engage in a conversation based on mutual far-out-ranging. They go and go and go. It’s still trance-inducing to a degree, but one gets shades more of krautrock than the spaced procession of the opener, and it’s a palpable shift between the two. There’s still some tricky echoes working on the saxophone as it dissipates just before the seven-minute mark and lets the bass take the foreground — it gradually winds its way back and out again en route to the last slow-to-a-stop — but the general impression is more earthbound and less given to float than Kungens Män earlier on.

One wonders if perhaps that’s an indication the next offering will be their jazz record? If so, they’d hardly be the first to realize the connections between improvised psych and jazz, but as they have in the past, they make those connections their own as they round off Trappmusik with that gentle letting go, emblematic as it is of the soul and intention behind the collection as a whole and the underlying consciousness at work in making it. A gorgeous celebration waiting to be celebrated.

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