Bergsman is one of the main faces of Swedish indie-pop, having been singer with The Concretes and duetting with Peter Bjorn & John on the magnificent Young Folks. So it would have been very easy for her to cash in on the increasingly popular Scandinavian sound of slightly mournful and twee indie-pop.
Instead, inspired by the late Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, she travelled to Pakistan, with the intention of recording an album with local, female musicians. All was not plain sailing though, as Bergsman discovered that the cultural differences in Pakistan meant that there wasn’t any such thing as female musicians. The unmarried Bergsman also had to pretend that her sound engineer was her husband, in order to fend off unwanted attention from the locals.
Given the circumstances, you’d expect a rather fraught sounding recording. Yet this half-hour set is peaceful, contemplative and rather lovely. It may not be a massive departure from Bergsman’s previous work, but the fusion of Western and Eastern influences does work quite beautifully.
Opening track To Lose Someone has a hushed, eerie feel as a gently plucked classical guitar blends nicely with a sitar and flute, all providing background to Bergsman’s mournful vocals. The extended outro of a guest vocalist wailing only adds to the haunting atmosphere.
Even better is Watching The Waves, featuring energetic gushes of percussive instrumentation contrasting nicely with Bergsman’s downbeat voice. Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear from Animal Collective, even pops up to lend guest vocals to the beautiful Anna, harmonising perfectly with Bergsman.
And speaking of Animal Collective, Bergsman even reworks one of that band’s finest moments, My Girls. Retitled My Boys here, stripped off all electronic flourishes and re-recorded with traditional Sufi instrumentation, the results are stunning. As hypnotic as the original, but in a different way, it’s one of the standouts of an excellent album.
Admittedly, there are flaws. Wapas Karna is a traditional Sufi folk song, performed entirely by locals with no contribution from Bergsman. It’s a laudable idea, but only sounds out of place here, like it should belong on a different album. And East Of Eden is also a bit too short – at just over 30 minutes, it certainly leaves you wanting more; you could easily hear another half-hour of this beguiling music.
Yet as the plaintive tones of Bekannelse, a hymn-like Swedish version of a Herman Hesse poem fade away, it’s impossible to judge East Of Eden as anything other than a resounding success. Free of the patronising condescension that many Western musicians adopt when they embark on musical journeys like this, Victoria Bergsman has produced a marvellous, spell-binding album.