Surreal post-rock landscapes with Svarta Stugan

SVARTA STUGAN – Islands / Öar

Band: Svarta Stugan
Title: Islands / Öar
Year: 2018
Country: Sweden
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  1. Islands III
  2. Islands Unknown
  3. Inner Space
  4. Islands V
  5. Islands I
  6. Islands II
  7. Prospects / Quatsi
As you know, we have recently closed off our 2018 with the usual end-of-the-year playlist, but of course this doesn’t mean we have stopped digging through the year that’s just passed. In fact, the middle of December saw the release of Islands / Öar, the LP debut by the Swedish quartet Svarta Stugan (“black cottage”), published under WOOAAARGH. In a sense, this is the first surprise, as this record does not exactly belong to the hardcore/sludge world typical of the German label (as was the case for bands such as Marasme or Ssanahtes); here we are dealing with an instrumental post-rock band, sporting quite a wide range of influences.

If there is one specific aspect which seems perfectly at home in this label, it sure is the marvellous visual artwork of the vinyl version, with the cover designed by Hanna Eliasson (aka Lupo Manaro), and the sleeve created by the band’s guitarist Henrik Toresson. Surreal mountainous landscapes, featuring the black cottage (which the band is named after) in the middle, and an odd ram watching over the valley from a distance. The universe portrayed here seems influenced by some experimental black and white films, both in terms of imagery and music (for example, I’m thinking of Dead Man by Jarmusch).

So, let’s talk about music: first of all I’ll mention the peculiar choice of mixing the songs’ titles, with “Islands III” put as the opener, a track that even has an interactive music video (it’s the soundtrack of a simple horizontal shooter game, of course in black and white). If you are familiar with Earth’s Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light (“Inner Space”), try picturing it with a little bit of Morricone, Glass, and Badalamenti (no wonder the band also homaged the latter with a cover of Twin Peaks’ theme), of course without forgetting the band’s core structure, consisting of atmospheric post-rock à la Explosions In The Sky (“Islands Unkown”).

Here we have about forty minutes of very enjoyable and diverse music, in which each one of Svarta Stugan members played more than one instrument. Perhaps one of the most unusual aspects is Filip Bagewitz‘s performance on oud, theremin, and kora, with their sounds unfolding through all songs. In the recent post-rock revival it wasn’t obvious that a band this young (founded in 2012) would be able to impress such a recognizable and personal vibe to their many influences. Islands / Öar represents that step forward that the four musicians were expected to take after their previous, shorter works. I wish them the best in reaching the rest of Europe and the world soon, having released a very solid debut LP which will take us to those places suspended between reality and fantasy portrayed in the artworks.