Swede Dreams

I’ve never been to Sweden. I’ve never bought an Abba record, driven a Volvo or slept with a blonde. I do have a house full of Ikea furniture. And more and more of the music I love seems to be coming from Sweden.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the pop records I own from other countries in continental Europe (OK… Air, Nouvelle Vague and Louise Attaque from France; Jaques Brel (Belgium – I may also possibly have an old tape of a dEUS album somewhere); Norway’s Kings of Convenience, who are honorary Swedes anyway. Iceland (Bjork, Sigur Ros) doesn’t count.

So what is it about Sweden (pop. 9 million)? Yes, they’re cool and they speak impeccable English, but then so do the Dutch, and the best they’ve given us is 2Unlimited – thanks for that. Maybe it’s the legacy of Abba, and a steady stream of superstars since – Neneh Cherry, Roxette, Ace of Base… For all I know, every child in their social democrat Utopia gets subsidised lessons in guitar jangling and lyrical whimsy.

Either way, I thought I’d make my own flatpack playlist. I’m not pretending to be any sort of expert, and I discovered many of these artists from other ’Spillers (a big Thank You For The Music to Shane, Blimpy & ElDerino). There’s some obvious choices, and some hopefully slightly less so.

The Cardigans – Daddy’s Car
The Cardigan’s Life album is 15 years old, but I never tire of it. They drew the blueprint for what somebody who deserves to have a flute stuffed down their throat labelled ‘twee pop’. This song is an asaferae of mine.

Anna Järvinen – Svensktalande bättre folk
Ever wondered why The Sundays don’t release more albums? It’s possibly because Harriet Wheeler leads a double life singing in Swedish.

The Tough Alliance – Taken Too Young
TTA are an electronic duo from Stockholm notorious for swinging baseball bats on stage. This is a remix of a Taken By Trees song…

Taken By Trees – My Boys
Taken By Trees made the A-list for their unlikely cover of Sweet Child of Mine. Here’s an equally unlikely Animal Collective cover.

jj – From Africa to Malaga
The most ecstatic song about the inevitability of death I’ve ever heard. Their album recalls One Dove in places, which is a Very Good Thing. jj recently toured with The xx, in what must be one of the best Scrabble-scoring tours ever.

Lykke Li – Dance, Dance, Dance
Love it, love it, love it.

Robyn – With Every Heartbeat
Simply one of the best pop songs of the last decade. And talking of heartbeats…

The Knife – Heartbeats
Scary brother-and-sister electronic duo – sister recently gained critical acclaim and Festive ‘Spill plaudits as Fever Ray. You probably know the cover version by…

Jose Gonzalez – Heartbeats
The name couldn’t be less Swedish (he’s of Argentine descent), the sound couldn’t be more so.

Frida Hyvonen – See How I Came Into Town
Frida’s album Silence is Wild has been easily my most-listened-to record of the last six months. I couldn’t decide which track to choose, so went for a non-album track instead.

Jens Lekman – The Opposite of Hallelujah
Bouncy melodies, witty lyrics, a touch of melancholy… Jens is the Swedish Stuart Murdoch.

Pelle Carlberg – I Just Called to Say I Love You
Actually, maybe Pelle Carlberg is…

Suburban Kids With Biblical Names – Seems To Be On My Mind
Almost as good as their name (which comes from a Sliver Jews song). SKWBN have something of The Magnetic Fields about them. I saw this track described on a blog as “…if Johnny Cash ended up as a member of Tullycraft”.

Fanfarlo – The Walls Are Coming Down

Fanfarlo are based in London, but the main man is Swedish, so they count. Heard them described on 6Music the other day as “a happier Arcade Fire”.

P.S. I’ve boxed these for a limited time – feel free to add any glaring omissions.

66 thoughts on “Swede Dreams

    • Only just noticed this, Barbryn. I’m glad they were of help! They had to be foolproof – they were written by a luddite / technophobe!

  1. Excellent post. I’ve been wondering about that re: Sweden myself, In fact I was planning a post similar to yours, either in the ‘Spill or some other place…

    Swedish acts seem to have some part of the pop spectrum cornered quite neatly for whatever reason. And, even a list as uniformly brilliant and comprehensive such as yours could be expanded… Sally Saphiro, Air France anyone?

    (I love all of the acts and songs in that list, btw… but With Every Heartbeat is something special)

  2. Jeniferever, Shout Out Louds, The Mary Onettes, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Hanne Hukkelberg (Norway) ,Acid House Kings, Sambassadeur, Club 8… I can understand being missed – but no EUROPE! shock.

  3. Europe! “The Final Countdown” is such a ridiculous record, but I defy anyone not to turn the volume up when it comes on the radio. I didn’t know they were Swedish.

    I did mean to include Wildbirds & Peacedrums though. And have just realised I forgot I’m From Barcelona too.

    Just listening to Sally Shapiro now… will work my way through the other unfamiliar names on this list.

  4. Norway could justify its own post, actually… Ida Maria, Rockettothesky, Royksopp, Ane Brun…

    back in the Swedish camp, Joel Alms is also worth seeking out…

  5. …and don’t forget A-Ha for your Norway list. I almost include a couple of token Norwegians (Kings of Convenience and Annie) but the list was getting long enough as it was.

  6. Great post barbryn, it’s actually surprising nobody’s done it before, it was long overdue, so a big thank you.

  7. yep .. let’s have Norway as a separate country.. and do a playlist for them later.

    I guess you know Labrador records (my friends in Germany source their stuff from them.. for gigs and releases on their label)


    click on the mp3s and have even more of a swedish afternoon… enjoy.

    • .. and I meant to say – you can download an entire zip file of their free tunes – (you don’t even have to put it together yourself)

      • Zip file downloaded – look forward to investigating.

        Great music, generous and helpful. I may emigrate.

      • and if ‘Acid House Kings’ don’t mislead you with their name.. the photos on the covers are equally deceptive.

  8. The post gets even better once I’ve finished listening!, there were some favourites here (especially the songs with the word heartbeat in them and Lykke Li). Didn’t know jj were Swedish (My Life is pretty cool too), also loved Frida Hyvonen.

  9. Plus two of my favourite detective story writers – Henning Mankell and the tragically late but great Stieg Larsson…

  10. The Dutch also gave us Shocking Blue and the mighty Bettie Serveert, don’t forget!

    I’d estimate that about a quarter of the music i listen to on a regular basis is Swedish. I’m a huge fan of their pop, electro and rock industries. Off the top of my head…The Ark, Marit Bergman, Pay TV, Robyn, Bodies Without Organs, Cloetta Paris, Jens Lekman (who i’m seeing in August), Familjen, Amon Amarth, Alcazar, The Knife, Broder Daniel, Daybehaviour, Sally Shapiro, Hello Saferide, Lena Ph., Cat 5, Lo-Fi FNK, Le Sport…

  11. Looking forward to listening to this later (no MANDO DIAO ?!)

    Can anyone help me out on: a Swedish trio (2 blokes and a girl) who play ‘lounge’ versions of heavy metal classics. I saw a report on them when they were on tour over here, maybe 2 years ago?, and always meant to follow them up in an I’m-interested-in-weird-cover-versions kind of way – and now my mind has gone even blanker than usual meaning I can’t even think of their name. Any offers?

  12. I agree that this conundrum is a subject worthy of exploration, and this is a great start. The heartbeat theme could be supplemented by Heart from Wildbirds and peacedrums (“I’m lost without your rhythm”).

  13. I think Roxette were my first favourite group, in the sense that I knew 2 or 3 songs by them, even earlier than the Jackson 5 even. It Must Have Been Love was the soundtrack to my lovelorn childhood self.

    • When my other half and i were beginning to get romantically involved, we’d send each other text messages throughout the day. I sent her:

      “i’ll feed your heart and blow the dust from your eyes”

      She replied with:

      “That’s beautiful”

      Five minutes later…..

      “Hang on, that’s from Dressed For Success, isn’t it?”

      I think that was the moment i realised we were destined for each other.

  14. Wot no Army of Lovers?!? But seriously folks, GREAT playlist barbryn. Loving it – and only as far as Taken By Trees… what a treat!

    • I all seriousness, i adore Army Of Lovers. Alexander Bard, the group’s founder was behind some of Sweden’s best pop groups of the last two decades – Alcazar, BWO and Vacuum as well, while holding down a post teaching at the Stockholm School of Economics. Really interesting fellow.

      • *whispers* So do I, SV80, so do I. “Israelism” makes me almost insanely, deliriously happy. Not as au fait with Alexander B’s later projects, but do have “Crying at the Discotheque”, which is rather magnificent.

  15. I don’t have much English language music from mainland European, and I know that’s something of an unfair bias. Part of it is the vocals because they often sound like the voices comics use when they are taking the piss, and I start giggling even if the song’s supposed to be serious. Mainly though I’m not sure what the point is beyond trying to sell records to English and American people. The music feels soulless; neither an organic product of their culture or ours.
    All of which I may fairly be jumped on as judgemental and shallow minded etc.
    In my defence, I do listen; I’m not prejudiced that way. As soon as I saw this thread I was able to dip straightaway into my upcoming earworms folder to contribute a Swedish troubadour to the mix.
    The Tallest Man On Earth is a guy, Kristian Matsson, and for the past month I’ve revisited his new album, The Wild Hunt, once or twice a week. The Mountain Goats/Dylan voice he adopts is as real as his claim to record-breaking height, but both will get him noticed and I think the songwriting deserves it. So from my earworms to your ears, enjoy The Drying Of The Lawns

    • Now – I love listening to a European sing in English, just because the unexpected turn of phrase that can be used (the same with american or canadian english/french – it’s subtly different)
      I know they might not be expressing what they mean as they would in their native tongue – but sometimes the beauty is a unique (and new found) way with words.

      And most of the bands mentioned here are just trying to express themselves to those who will listen, not sell records to English and American people (that wouldn’t be up there on sensibly careers advice nowadays)- I talk with my friends, they jump from German to French, English, Turkish etc .. what ever they’ve picked up – it’s fun, not soulless and perfectly organic use of language for a modern society – (who isn’t a lazy shit like me – whose brain loses the German or French instantly)(I mean I could be chatting away to someone from the other side of the planet right now – and my bastard english is just about understood – sometimes – i think)

      …and on the phone last night, just the word play to describe and connect to a word is interesting in itself (the word was scaffolding – described in German – not something we’d ever discussed before) fun and enjoyment and connecting – I think it’s beautiful…

      The humor can come across – or a dislike of an accent – but that is just as strong with English/ American/ what ever accents in any song or songwriting – in my view any way.

      whoops – rant. hat. off. now. sorry tinny.

      • Yes please, maki! Just discovered they were playing on of my favourite venues in Hamburg the week before last – price of an entrance ticket saved yet again, sigh.

        I will be back for listening pleasure later (I hope – sick child in the house may thwart plans) and your Luz Casal post is next!

  16. Fine selection. Good to see some props for The Tough Alliance – 1st ‘Spill mention for them, possibly. SV80 covered some of the missing knob twiddlers & we could use some Concretes. Sure Nilp will be able to find us some jazz & JPsan some metal/racket?

    Good list of Swedish bands here:


    1st Wales, now Sweden – is there a theme developing?

  17. Um … I haven’t played barbryn‘s playlist yet, but can I say thanks for blowing the dust off the forgotten Hellsongs Lounge EP?


    OK, then.


  18. @bishbosh

    *Fingers crossed behind my back* Oh, no, I’d never!

    Back on topic, The Vines have a couple of good songs also…

  19. Great post barbryn – I’ve always felt that the Swedes punch above their weight when it comes to indie/rock music. So many fantastic bands to choose from.

    I can’t believe that you live in an ABBA-free zone – a fault you should rectify forthwith. Go and buy a Greatest Hits collection right now – you’ll be amazed at how many quality songs they churned out.

    Donds to anonymous-shoegazer for The Concretes shout – but why no mention of The Wannadies, The Hives or The Ceasars?

    • Point taken. I have a lot of respect for Abba, and have thought getting a Greatest Hits CD would be fun for family car journeys.

      I’m listening to Shane’s dropbox contributions at the moment, and The Caesars’ “Jerk It Out” has just come on – a great tune I’d forgotten all about. And I really wanted to include The Wannadies’ “You and Me Song”, but I don’t have it.

      • Hi barbryn – sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like I was telling you off about ABBA – it’s just one of my bug bears that ABBA are often written off too easily as purveyors of disposable pop – in fact, there’s a lot more to them than initially meets the eye.

        I’ve put the You and Me Song in the ‘Box together with another Wannadies track. They’re both taken from the ‘Be A Boy’ album which is a damn fine listen all round.

        I’ve also put a Hives track in there (Hate To Say I Told You So) which I must say I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as I expected to. I remembered it being better!

      • after I found out ‘the day before you came’, that I had by The Real Tuesday Weld was an ABBA track.. I was astonished.. such banal yet beautiful story lyrics… what’s FrogPs description: Bergman period ABBA, or some such?

      • “Might Be Stars”! Of course I remember that song. I’m in 6th form listening to Steve Lamaq’s Evening Session all over again…

  20. I wonder where our Blimpy has gotten to. This seems like his cuppa.

    I thought I posted the follow up comments box, but maybe I didn’t, cause I’m not getting them.

    You know, it’s funny, strangers ask me fairly often to ask if I’m swedish. I can’t imagine a situation in which I’d ask someone their nationality. I met a boy at a bar a long time ago, and he asked if I was Swedish. Nope. He said, “could you pretend to be?”

      • I should hasten to add, it’s not a line I’ve ever heard other than in a comedy setting, it’s probably not real.

      • On a similar tip, I was at a very ‘straight’ dinner party full of investment banking types (don’t ask) a few years back. At one point, one of them remarked to a guy next to me, “You’ve got very unusual colouring – do you have any Irish in you?” Completely straight-faced (as it were), he replied, “No, but I have had.” I was crying with laughter. Nobody else got it.

        The End.

  21. I go to Sweden 3 times a year and there are some parts of Stockholm where every person you see looks like they are in a critically acclaimed indie band…..and probably are!

    For me though Sweden is all about the metal. I’ve posted on Uppsala’s black metal trolls Watain before, and Kalyr has given us Opeth, but I like the old school of Swedish Death Metal too, Entombed, Dismember, At The Gates……it’s all got a bit “pop” for me these days with The Haunted and their ilk. Norway is the place for proper black metal of course….

  22. Thanks for the responses everyone, and the Dropbox contributions, which I’m loving. Clearly I’m not the only Sviergophile (?) here.

    @tin – I do understand your point about singing in a second language. But when you’ve grown up surrounded by anglophone pop music, isn’t singing in English almost the natural thing to do? Most of the songwriters here are better lyricists than many of their English counterparts as it is.

    I liked The Tallest Man in the World – yes, that voice is fake, but then so is anyone’s who sings like Dylan. Including Dylan.

  23. Great post barbryn – some great new stuff on here that I’ll definitely be investigating further. Know exactly what you mean about Silence Is Wild; after I came across it, I was just completely addicted to it for 2 or 3 months. One other Swedish favourite I’d add is El Perro Del Mar’s first album, which again completely hooked me for a long time – though oddly enough her two later albums haven’t done much for me.

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