“Relentlessly clever and smart… But maybe sometimes, just one time, I want my bleak future served… bleak.”
The future’s looking bleak and the present aint much better, at least in the playful and nihilistic eyes of London’s sly-indie outfit Scandinavia. Their latest LP ‘Premium Economy’ cites the mock decadence of “the middle class libido… group psychosis and the decline of western civilisation” as their launch pads, pet subjects and start points. Consider my grim interest peaked. Throw in their self proclaimed likings to XTC and The Replacements and I got an album I’m keen on unpacking.
So what do I find when I unwrap this gift? I get throwbacks and harkings to Preservation era Kinks, XTC’s English Settlement, St Etienne’s Fox Base Alpha and more than a tip of a scuffed English bowler to Blur’s LP Modern Life is Rubbish. It’s almost impossible not to namedrop and check as Premium Economy slips into this institution; a long British line of wry and dry slants on the shine of nostalgia, the cracks in the here-now and the grim looking glow of the future.
Thing is, there’s a danger that lurks. All the bands checked above had their pitfalls and fails; stellar tracks now and then, great albums every so often, murky and unfocussed more often than not. How wide can you tack between wry-dry and sneer? How often does satire succeed? How long can chip at the palace you live in without the floor at your feet giving way?
I’m not sure if we’re heading towards answers, but Scandinavia say play it light. Don’t rub it in, wrap it all up in an off the tracks pop and disguise our sour times in high spirits. We half jagged jangle and cling to the safety of up tempo retro-fit lifts. It’s all going to hell just as most of us know but we don’t have to all go down frowning.
From the jubilant brass tempered pop introduction of the opening Priority Boarding, we’re invited to join on an Easy Jet tour of the world now as seen from above. Off brand bubbles in hand, bitter hit to the throat, we climb to the heights for the skewed top down view that Scandinavia want us to study. And while we’re safe in our seats with our feet cramped and planted, they’ll point out the sights as we fly.
I Don’t Believe In Anything implores us to explore nihilism as a new biohazard. “I don’t believe in being nice / Disagreeableness is the spice of life” and “I don’t believe in the liberal right / Or left wing Nazis full of spite” sum up the thrust of the song. it’s something we see all around us, if you picked at the past through a rose tinted glass, you could say this is a modern day luxury; that oppose used to mean find solutions, whereas now just opposing seems fine. And if the winner is simply who disagrees loudest – it’s the most brash and meanest who wins. Add this to a backdrop of soft acid synths and an unnervingly close call with pop-punk of past, we’ve got intrigue at least, maybe a payoff in waiting, and sure footed start to an album.
Autumn Coat is an XTC vibe straight and pure that leaves US pop-punk behind. I can’t say I’m not thankful, it’s summer-shine dulcets and lacklustre glimmer of lazy-light shades sound like happy aint too far away. New Men on the surface sounds a might brighter still, that’s until you look straight at the sun. Expendable living, expendable us, action men made solely for sending elsewhere to get disassembled however… “There are always new men to atomise”, the repeated line hangs around like the black spots you just can’t shake out your eyes.
That’s the gift of this stylized romp; the tongue’s so firm in cheek it’s easy not to see the spikes for the flowers and leaves. That’s how it’s been made and designed, it’s concept and core fully realised. Education’s corruption, rich list owned islands, the synth-happy blip-hop of 80s school videos and wage breaking weekends as a ritual, they all come in line for a swipe.
There’s moments of nostalgic endearment. Radio Blaster acts as Ghetto Blaster’s introduction where we scroll through the pop charts of 1988 and The Time Lords are UK number 1. It’s big brother sings of unmastered skateboards and video game consoles, and west-world and rest-world cold war childhood comparisons. I like the link, the thought process and throwback. I wonder how delicate the handling should be.
There’s a feel of three EPs in one as these intros and interludes flow. The first six, then three more and three more. And there’s whit and exuberance all over. Maybe it’s down to the similar speeds that maintain the main tracks of the album, or maybe it’s the pitfall as mentioned at start of relentlessly clever and smart, but I find myself listening in sections. Each time I do I this I’m happy, I get something new to mull over. I pick out a word or a phrase, or a genre tipped coating of music and tone and I get space to spread and unpick. But when taken as one, maybe sometimes, just one time, I want my bleak future served… well, bleak.
Scandinavia’s new album Premium Economy is available to stream, play and download. Find them on Bandcamp and Spotify
Find my pick of these tracks and other featured artists
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