It’s safe to say that it’s been an exciting year for Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation. Despite still being in their relatively early infancy, the Stockholm-based group have already been nominated for a Swedish Grammy award – which came as a result of their excellent debut EP Diamond Wave – and performed at the coveted Roskilde Festival, featuring on the Rising stage alongside other hotly-tipped Scandinavian artists such as Broen, Yung and De Underjordiske. Add to that repeated plays on BBC 6 Music, positive coverage from The Guardian, Noisey and Q, and the honour of being one of Lauren Laverne’s “headphone moments”, and you can see why they are currently one of Sweden’s most talked about rock bands.
With a name that references the Bardo Thodol (also known as The Tibetan Book of the Dead), their debut full-length was always going to be a psychedelic and deeply conscious offering, and it is one through which band leader Josefin Öhrn has attempted to pursue her interest in “mind-altering psychedelic music”, which she believes is a “powerful way to unveil those deeper oceans of being that are our true home”.
With its roots lying firmly in multifaceted krautrock, Horse Dance is a record that does wonderfully well to achieve Öhrn’s vision. Straight from the start the listener is introduced to the relentless rhythms and pulsating synthesisers that characterise the album throughout, and the band couldn’t have picked a better opener than ‘Dunes’. Clocking in at just under seven minutes long, it is an intense and thrilling journey that softly grows from a simple, Suicide-esque synth line into an all-encompassing crescendo, rising and falling like a wave as it works its way towards the song’s delicate conclusion. Öhrn’s reverb-laden vocals softly caress the bipolar instrumentation and act as a calming and meditative mantra, guiding the listener as her band showcase all of the techniques available in their sonic arsenal.
Öhrn’s chanted and wonderfully effective vocals are, understandably, one of the album’s most important elements, playing an important role as an extra texture on top of the music that adds a dreamy and often relaxing feeling to each song, no matter how noisy they may be. But she also knows exactly when to up the intensity, and that is showcased perfectly on ‘Sunny Afternoon’, arguably the record’s most “classic” rock song and one that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album.
Throughout, Victor Hvidfeldt – one of the record’s standout performers – takes centre-stage with his driving bass lines that fuzz over a tom-heavy jungle drum beat from Christopher Cantillo, a percussionist who, as it is clear to witness throughout the course of Horse Dance, understands the importance of a rhythm section that are tightly bound by a similar vision. The two come together with devastating effect on ‘Sunny Afternoon’ before launching into a Tangerine Dream-esque combination on ‘Sanity’, a song that once again showcases the dream-like aspects of Öhrn’s celestial vocals as she delicately whispers over a relaxed and minimal background of arpeggiated synthesisers and driving drums.
Whilst Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation are arguably at their best when pursuing a more multilayered krautrock agenda, the midpoint of Horse Dance is characterised by a synth-heavy and spacious four-minute period in which lush ambience and dreamy vocals take precedent. Underneath it all are delicate trip-hop beats, a far cry from the powerful drums that adorned the start of the album but a welcome respite before the volume rises once again as the band build towards their grand finale.
‘Take Me Beyond’, the first single from the record, is in a similar vein to ‘Sanity’, and the two tracks work wonderfully well either side of the stripped back and reflective nature of ‘You Have Arrived’, which acts as the calm in between two storms. The band’s garage rock-laden psychedelia – not to mention Hvidfeldt’s favourite fuzz pedal – return on the album’s title track, a six-and-three-quarter-minute-long piece that violently rises and falls as the band weave around Öhrn’s spoken and slightly distorted vocals.
Their more direct approach is revisited once again on ‘Green Blue Fields’, a wonderful, disco-orientated offering that is characterised by frantic hi-hats and a driving, no nonsense bass line that carries the song from start to finish.
After starting so strongly with ‘Dunes’, it is no wonder that the band decide to finish on a similar note, and it feels a fitting way to bring to an end a wonderfully composed record. ‘Talk’, whilst slightly more relaxed than the album’s opener, showcases their ability to find that perfect balance between melody and driving rhythms, creating a psychedelic pop song that shimmers and oscillates underneath Öhrn’s shoegaze-style vocal melodies.
Throughout Horse Dance, Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation’s transcendental and mind-altering style of psychedelic, garage-tinged krautrock is both engaging and exciting, and it’s the perfect antidote for the winter blues. With such a stellar and powerful debut album under their belts, the only way is up for the Swedish group, who are guaranteed to have an excellent and successful 2016 as a result.
Review by Ben Cullimore
Watch the video for ‘Take Me Beyond’