Album Reviews

Sambassadeur – European

(Labrador) UK release date: 1 March 2010

In the accompanying publicity material, Sweden’s Sambassadeur characterise this, their third album (following on from their 2004 self-titled debut and 2007’s Migration) as “the extrovert album”. Since it is indeed full of assured, accomplished material, this can perhaps be taken to be referring to their increase in confidence over the years, reaching its pinnacle with this release.

One of the most deeply satisfying aspects of this almost wholly satisfying album is the way in which the band succeed in the creation of moods and conveying of emotions. Where it works best – on tracks like Forward Is All – one can sense a perfect coming-together of the instrumentation (often lush and orchestral, with strings just the right side of “syrupy”), the tune, and the vocal.

The tunes are invariably strong, memorable and moving, particularly Stranded, Days (a recent single) and A Remote View, although there are a couple of times when other melodies are brought to mind; a repeated refrain in Stranded, particularly the bit where it is repeated on the clarinet, is identical to part of the verse of Art Garfunkel‘s Watership Down theme Bright Eyes, while Albatross recalls fellow Swedes ABBA‘s Winner Takes It All, both in the tune itself and its air of gentle tristesse.

Wherever the violins feature strongly (Forward Is All, Albatross, High And Low, Sandy Dunes) the mood is beautifully wistful, again supported brilliantly by the sad-and-pining-yet-warm, human and personal vocal of Anna Persson. Elsewhere gentle, echoey piano and sultry clarinet are used to great effect (Stranded), or soul-ache classical guitar (Albatross), or even the occasional synths, which emerge shining and sparkly, as on I Can Try.

A Remote View is that rarity, a completely instrumental track that nevertheless is completely beguiling, and totally worthy of its place in the running order: this is an album that’s beautifully paced, as well.

In all this, the lyrical content is perhaps the only aspect that fails to make a consistent impression. Pastoral generalities, to whit: “Pine trees like paintings against the sky” (High and Low) or “End of September / Leaves are falling to the ground” (Sandy Dunes) float by on the crests of the musical waves, merely vaguely contributing to, rather than actually defining, the overall sense of meaning in the songs. The best couplet is “I was happier alone / Cut my hair just like a boy”, from Albatross, which gives a nicely personal, individual interpretation of one aspect of the solitary life.

On the best tracks, though – like the euphoric good-time opener Stranded; the richly orchestrated Days; I Can Try, with sweet, almost cherubic harmonies and playful keyboard arpeggios; and the thing of yearning beauty that is Albatross – everything else combines so successfully that the lack of lyrical significance pales into, well, insignificance. When a band have such a repertoire of other skills – in melody writing, arrangement, vocal delivery and the rest – then one surely cannot fail to be moved, delighted, enraptured. Extrovert? Perhaps. Wonderfully involving, inspiring, engaging and uplifting? Undoubtedly.

MP3: Sambassadeur – Stranded

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Sambassadeur – European