Club 8
The Friend I Once Had
Club 8
Spring Came, Rain Fell
Strangely Beautiful


  The sound of Swedish duo Club 8 is like everything that came from that country in terms of pop, yet it's entirely different. In keeping the band tied to the core duo - vocalist Karolina Komstedt [formerly of Poprace] and multi-instrumentalist Johan Angerg?rd [formerly of Acid House Kings and Poprace] engage in such natural and seamless way of communicating their ideas. Large majority of the music and lyrics on their albums is in fact penned by Angerg?rd, though I'm sure Komstedt has some sort of input into the music-making process. Formed back in 1995, by this former couple, the duo made quiet music - perhaps na?ve, perhaps a bit sparse - though these were reflections of their true states of mind at the time, so who can blame them for that. Those long out-of-print Labrador albums are now making a return to glory, each one arriving complete with bonus tracks, oftentimes a full EP worth of music.

  Following 1996's debut "Nouvelle", the band slowed things down and begin to tweak their style to encompass a wider range of music. Along a slower number, the softly spoken "Karen", the fans were treated to the dance-floor favourite "Missing You". The subtlety of the beats on "Summer Rain", along with the melancholy feel of acoustic guitar of "Better Days" is the perfect accompaniment for Komstedt's vocals. One gets the sense at this point that she's still seeking her way on these recordings. It's almost as if she's not sure whether she singing too soft or if her intonation is right, but that's a natural state of things when a band is probing for their true calling. Inclusion of "Missing You: Remixes" EP is a real treat. While I can do without some of the dance mixes [Minty Cut mix of "My Heart Won't Break" sounds rather redundant at this point], the softness of the acoustic numbers is quite welcome. "The Best of the Seasons" and "The Friend I Once Had" come out on top and see Club 8 finding their real gift for making the perfect brand of their unique style of pop music.

  Fast forward five years to 2001 and the release of the band's self-titled album. Club 8 was not only a lot more assured of their direction but they firmly chose to concentrate on the subtlety of the pop song format. Augmented with lush guitars, harmonica and gentle additions of string sections, their music was a perfect accompaniment for rainy days. Nearly all of the songs on the album fall into the melancholy, ballad category. Komstedt continues to deliver hushed, sometimes whispered vocals [it's not her coyness, it's just her approach that drives them], while Angerg?rd lays out serene beds of tracks with gentle beats and strumming guitars. Addition of two remixes by Les Espions showcases a more beat-oriented side to the band, one that could be enjoyed in a group setting in a club.

  It only took the band a year to come out with their next album, the wonderfully heart-breaking "Spring Came, Rain Fell". Speed of delivery of the album had to do with the fact that in late 2001, along with Acid House Kings, they set up a shared recording space - Summersound Studios. There's not much of a change in musical direction to report on. The duo was still high on guitars, some bass, synths, keyboards, delicate percussion, while Angerg?rd even tried his luck in the vocal department, which worked out to everyone's benefit. Andil Dahl was enlisted to play some wonderfully melodic harmonica and bongos. Star of the show for many people was still Karolina Komstedt. Her vocal harmonies and barely audible, whispered, sweetly tickling vocals added a layer of sensuality to the proceedings. Even when they're processed, as on the glamorously vibe-full "The Chance I Deserve", she still has a thick layer of tickling sugar all over her vocal chords. The inclusion of the five song "Summer Songs" EP sees the band in a more relaxed mood. These numbers tend to hit the folk territories and tell simple tales of love and love lost.

  2003 saw the release of "Strangely Beautiful", which some may say saw them worship at the altar of Saint Etienne. This may be true if it wasn't for the fact that Club 8's beats have always tended towards the softer side of the palette. Witness the hushed percussive glory of "I Wasn't Much of a Fight" where Andil Dahl gives a great work-out on bongos, while Tobias Einestad plays some sweet trumpet melodies. At this point, the duo's music became so polished [without the glossy side-effect of course], so pronounced that just about everything they would touch turned to gold. In many aspects, this album could be used as sleeping music or perhaps as music to soothe your heart after a bad break-up. The sweetness in Komstedt's voice, her caressing beauty and overall pop-rock-folk-hushed electronic elements added a certain haunting quality. "Saturday Night Engine" EP is included as the cream on the pie to make a sumptuous ending to this most haunting album the band would create until last year's "The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Dreaming". Whether or not Club 8 influenced a new batch of Swedish pop acts like Jens Lekman and Anna Järvinen is up for debate. However, their quiet way of assurance, their musical craft and those haunting vocal harmonies continue to keep enough people interested. The reissues will hopefully light a new spark with late-comers and will see a new re-birth in the band going forward.

- Tom Sekowski

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