The Swedish band Dungen takes it’s name from the word meaning “the groove.” Their music is an adventurous strain of Indie rock that veers towards the psychedelic and progressive, as though played in a garage with a jazz drummer! Fans of Midlake, Radiohead, Ragnarok, Tortoise and The Flaming Lips (without the performance art) would warm to Dungen’s beautiful, organic and oft mysterious sounds, and the vocals of founder/composer Gustav Ejstes, all sung in Swedish, his native tongue. Dungen was recently on tour to support their imaginative new album Alla sak and we caught the show in San Francisco October 23rd at The Chapel.
Multi-instrumentalist, composer Ejstes apparently plays the majority of instruments on their studio albums and is a clear point of focus of their live performances. His pleasant airy vocals grace most tracks, while he alternates between piano, flutes, and guitars. Occasionally the band launch into longer instrumental pieces, which tend to be more on the psychedelic side. The band that accompanies him is a muscular, brilliant ensemble. Reine Fiske uses
his guitar less for discernable rhythms and lead solos, more for coloring the melodies with labyrinthine sounds and effects. When he does lead, his evocative riffs and improvisational excursions might bring to mind jazz-fusion virtuoso Alan Holdsworth. Bassist Mattias Gustavsson delivers a fitting bottom end, sometimes leading the down-tempo melodic structures. Best of all, skilled drummer Johan Holmegard focuses on lots of deep, jazzy toms, and skip beats on snare, often using brushes and
soft mallets to vary his sound, which stands out or comes to the fore on nearly every track. All the band members sing, and their backing vocals create harmonies that are often dissonant while building and resolving to more uplifting major tones. It’s often pretty, earthy music with an edge of menace.
The band’s sound has softened over the years since the debut in 2001. Since it’s music that’s hard to describe, it’s best to listen to a few tracks. Check out this video for “Akt Dit” which sports an intro and melody reminiscent of French duo Air. Or for an earlier more challenging psychedelic track try “Högdalstoppen” from the album Skit I Allt (2010). While the majority of songs are more pastoral and melodic, each show has at least one long instrumental “freak out” such as “Högdalstoppen.” Best to salve the dissonance with a typical follow up track such as “Satt Att Se” which sports a nice animated video. As if to confirm the difficulty one has describing their sound, front man Ejstes explains on their website that the 2010 album Skit I Allt “is about a certain feeling: you’re with your friends and mates, all hanging out till 6 in the morning. You’re the last one left at the party and you call this person that you want to be with. They’re asleep, but they still say, ‘Ah, fuck it, come over.’ It’s that feeling.”
The concert did run late into the night, allowing the band to cover more than twenty tracks spanning their eight albums. It was a generous helping of indie rock from this talented artist. The tour is now complete, but here’s a recommendation to watch for them to come again, say “fuck it” call some friends and mates, and attend!