The Concretes – Say Something New

The Concretes
Year :
Camera Obscura / Peter Bjorn and John / Rilo Kiley

Despite having lived in the Northeast for my entire life, Winter hits me like a ton of bricks every year. This week saw the first extended stretch of bitter cold hit New York City–four very long days in sub-20-degree range. I’m just now getting acclimated to the cold and coming to a begrudging acceptance of the fact that winter doesn’t even start until December 21. Each and every year, I am amazed that for countless people around the world, 20 degrees is practically balmy. For some, exposure to true cold is a way of life.

To the extent that we are all products of our environment, living in perpetual cold does some strange things to people. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Scandinavia. Though limited, my travels in the fine nation of Sweden proved this fact to me in the starkest of terms. While visiting my sister, who lived there for a mind-bending period of about six months, I got a crash course in Swedish culture. Or, at least a very limited but intense introduction to the culture based solely on how exceedingly different it is from my own. To wit: upon arriving in Sweden, my sister was quickly informed via informational pamphlet that “In Sweden, silence is fun!”

This is not a joke.

Landing in Stocholm’s Arlanda Airport is downright trippy. It’s a bustling international airport that is so quiet you can hear a pin drop. So quiet, that one feels compelled to whisper so as not to disturb travels within a 100-foot radius. Families travelling together move in unison without any audible communication. Couples sit together in dining areas exchanging only glances. Talking in public is simply no bueno.

Except, that is, unless it’s to inform someone that you’re about to be late for a meeting. During my train ride into the city center, an announcement was made that the train would be approximately three minutes late. At this point, about 75% of my fellow rides produced cellphones and began efficiently informing the voice on the other end about their impending “lateness.” Then, back to silence.

Stranger still are these two additional features of Swedish life that I was able to ascertain: 1. The primary cultural exports of Sweden consumed by Americans are apparently Absolut vodka and pop music. 2. Swedes, when they do speak to you, are generally wonderful, generous, and helpful people.

And of course, Sweden is a cold place. Bone-shatteringly cold. So cold, they built a bar out of ice and being in said bar is still warmer than being outside. So cold that I actually thought I might die at any moment should a sudden impact cause my entire body to shatter like the T-1000 at the end of Terminator 2. It’s what you might call “disgusting.”

In a sense, the pop music that manages to find its way from Sweden to the U.S. embodies all of this. Of course, there is the seminal disco group, ABBA, but other Swedish exports include hipster balladeers Peter Bjorn and John, elctro-R&B outfit Little Dragon, and the power-pop of the Shout Out Louds. What do all of these have in common? I would argue that each has a sort of stiff, understated exterior that belies a real warmth underneath. Even the most superficially bubbly of the bunch, ABBA, is characterized by, what would seem to be for an American audience, performed joyfulness. In the case of ABBA, though, the warmth is there in the music itself–rich and welcoming, schmaltzy though it is.

Of all of these fascinating exports, though, my favorite is the 2003 self-titled album by The Concretes. It’s defined by frequently icy-sounding exterior that gradually opens into a a full-bodied chorus of horns and Wurlitzer. In other words, the it’s the musical equivalent of coming in from the bitter cold to rest by a warm fire, possibly with a nice strong drink in hand. As the winter arrives in full each year, The Concretes is always part of the soundtrack–and it’s that time of year.

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(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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