Albums, Music, The Revue — June 18, 2018 at 5:02 am

Kluster – ‘civic’ (album review)

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Friday, June 15th, 2018, was not a public holiday in Sweden, but there was a massive celebration happening. For indie music fans and followers of the burgeoning Tre Kronor indie scene, two groups of individuals celebrated a shared milestone. Just three days ago, alt-pop outfit Kluster unveiled their debut album, which is Rama Lama Records‘ first full-length release. This union could not be any more perfect – a creative force joined with a label dedicated to pushing the limits – and the superb byproduct, civic.

With 11 songs coming in at a tight 33 minutes, civic is a multi-genre kaleidoscope. Pop, jazz, jangle-rock, post-punk, dream-pop, and touches of avant-garde flow throughout the record. Opener “Oh Oh Oh” is the perfect introduction to Kluster’s quirky art. At nearly five minutes, it’s the longest track on the album as well as the grittiest. As frontwoman Linnea Hall’s deadpan vocals recount the paranoia that exists in one’s mind, her band mates create a drifting, spine-tingling soundscape. One part dreamy and another eerie, it completely keeps you on edge.

The multifaceted approach and the story line of an internal struggle continue on “Tightrope”, which combines Rubblebucket’s rambunctious experimental pop with the dark chimes of Preoccupations. Hall’s vocals this time are more lush, acting like the calming voice that tries to keep us steady. Yet, as she says, it’s like we “are in a cartoon movie” and walking the fine line between reality and fiction. At some point, everyone falls into the crevasses the band beautifully reveals on “Let It Go”. While this song is one of the more “straightforward” songs, it still possesses a great amount of ingenuity with its fleeting atmosphere and chaotic, jazzy ending.

“Sprawling” is trippy, psychedelic-infused pop that echoes The Flaming Lips, only taken much further down the rabbit hole. Even when Kluster opt for largely instrumental tunes (such as the tantalizingly whimsical “Tiramisu” and the spiraling “Narcissist”), they approach their craft like Salvador Dali. Nothing is what it seems; instead, they take the obvious and make it abstract and rich.

Kluster save their best songs for the album’s second half. The opening, jangly guitar lines plus Linnea Hall’s saccharine vocals fill “Over My Head” with sheer delight. Then something unexpected happens. The quintet become Broken Social Scene, turning the tune into a chaotic but exhilarating wave of noise. It’s a clever piece of orchestration, as the bombarding effect brilliantly mirrors Hall’s lyrics about being lost, uncertain, and alone. Taking noise-making to another level is “Afterglow”, which is like a space odyssey that finishes through a black hole. It is bright, awe-inspiring, and yet dark and uncertain.

The herky-jerky approach of “In Your Hometown”, meanwhile, is surprisingly intoxicating. The grizzled guitar riffs and probing synths and rhythms are robotic. Hall’s voice, too, is mechanical. Everything, of course, is done with a purpose. Specifically, the composition reflects Hall’s description of one’s hometown absorbing the wackiness of Wonderland. This is a place where we “collect our thoughts in a paper bag”  to escape the oddities that surround us.

Although civic won’t appeal to all mainstream music fans (and even “purists” may question the extent of Kluster’s experimentation), there is little question that the album is innovative and intelligent. For the open-minded, however, it is a record to behold. This is a record to be applauded for its ambition and boldness and for making us believe that art still exists in music. Thirty-six years ago, another little label released The Clean’s “Tally Ho”, which left people scratching their heads. Flying Nun Records is now one of the most influential labels around, and The Clean ushered in the Dunedin Sound. Maybe history will repeat itself, but this time recognizing the brilliance of Kluster and Rama Lama Records.

Purchase and stream civic on Bandcamp or Spotify. The band is comprised of Linnea Hall (vocals), Pontus Örnstrand (keyboard), Sebastian Hegedüs (guitar), Adam Jonsson (guitar), and Andreas Pollak (drums).

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