Monday, October 31, 2011

REVIEW: Wake the President - Zumutung!

Exciting artists acknowledge their genre but don't allow themselves to be constrained by the work of others. This attribute is embodied in the music of Wake the President. They clearly embrace the musical template of the '80s Postcard records guitar pop, particularly Orange Juice, The Fire Engines and Josef K. But rather than look backward to make sure they paint within the lines, they stride forward on their own path. The result is Zumutung!, an exuberant, often cynical, and varied collage of emotional snapshots of the subject young men write about--girls. And it is one of my favorite albums of the year.

The core of Wake the President is Bjorn and Erik Sandberg. Twin brothers from Glasgow who have been building a reputation as musicians and promoters for at least the last four years. Erik is the lyricist and main vocalist; Bjorn is the guitarist and focuses on things musical. As with their first album, the Sandbergs have enlisted Paul Savage, producer extraordinaire (and former drummer of The Delgados) to produce Zumutung! at Chem19 Studios. The ten tracks the brothers have crafted for this album are sonically and emotionally diverse. "Elaine" (which is provided below) is the most straightforward indie pop song, and may bring to mind Belle & Sebastian. The albums first four tracks, "She Fell Into My Arms", "Your Expressions", "In Youth There Is Pleasure" and "This Is New" are at the more raucous edge of post punk guitar pop. "Sort of Blonde" is an acoustic music hall sing-along, and "Stockholm's Archipelago", the album's bittersweet closer, shows that Wake the President can nail the grand-scale post rock pop song. However, the sound of the album is nearly universally lively and engaging.

The counterpoint to the exuberant music is in the lyrics. Based on snippets of conversations with various women and laced with literary references, the lyrics present the pitfalls and turmoils inherent in looking for love, or an acceptable facsimile for love. For example, while "She Fell Into My Arms" will entice you to move your feet, the words suggest a cynical take on love:
The voice of the cock, or its flight overhead, it easily managed to shake off a dozen or so lovers that remained bereft, so here’s how I got into this mess: I saw the inscription in your blushing and when you fell into my arms, so willingly, that I wondered why I’d bothered at all.

You buy love, but you can’t afford the hurt that’s printed on the receipt and if affection is a one pound coin then why do you expect a hundred pence in return? She said, “We’re like a couple of ghosts that wander above”. And when you fell into my arms, so willingly, I wondered why I bothered at all.

"She Fell Into My Arms"

An even darker take on relationships is the "In Youth There Is Pleasure":
We don’t just need to be apart, we need a lifetime of it, I’ll admit.
As I unlocked the forbidden room, I was struck by how many corpses there were.
Boy meets girl, girl loses boy: boy opens fire on a choc-a-bloc street.

And the narrator in the delightful sounding "Elaine" explains that he is initiating the end of the relationship, although suggesting that his inadequacies are at fault. But the outlook isn't all gloom and doom. In "E.T." Erik expresses the hope that an ended relationship can be rekindled, and "Sort of Blonde" suggests at least the possibilities for love developing.

In my view, the approach to music and lyrics works perfectly on two levels. First, the album works as an engaging manifesto of guitar pop regardless of the lyrical content. But on another level, the music and lyrics work together to point out that the trips and falls of relationships are just part of the rhythm of life; you soldier on and a new adventure is around the corner. Of course, it is easier to accept all that if you are comfortable with cynicism and, maybe, a dose of paranoia.


Wake the President's first LP, You Can't Change That Boy, was a mostly lively, but sometimes gentle, textbook of indie pop. Both the music and the stories told were bold and well defined. For Zumutung!, there is a matured palette of expression. While still painted on the Glasgow indie pop canvass, the music is more varied and subtle; there are keyboards and choirs and even strings. And the lyrics match the music with more shaded tones; more areas where the import of direct statements is left unexplained. In my opinion, the additional nuance results in Zumutung! being more evocative and exciting than the excellent debut album because it implicitly invites you to flesh out the story in your own. A note about sourcing the album--Zumutung! may not be available in the States in physical form at this time, but I'm advised that it is available from Amazon, iTunes and Spotify. If you want the physical artifact, which is understandable, try contacting We Can Still Picnic, at the Facebook link or email me through this site and I'll put you in touch.

In their young lives, Bjorn and Erik Sandberg who form the foundation of the band have founded two record labels, Say Dirty and We Can Still Picnic, the second of which is releasing Zumutung!, collaborate with others to keep music and arts vibrant in their community, and have released two LPs and a few singles. I expect them to continue to contribute to music and the other arts, and I encourage everyone to support them.

Twitter ( @WakethPresident )
We Can Still Picnic (label's Facebook page

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