Dungen says 'analyze this'
Swedish psych-folk more than open to interpretation
It's easy to write off Dungen as throwback, a nod to the past or an indulgent dance with nostalgia. The music Swedish artist Gustav Ejstes makes under the Dungen moniker may accurately be described as psych-folk but his deeply heady pop is more about emotions than it is a specific decade or defined message. "For me it's about music," Ejstes says. "Expressions. I can find both Erik Satie and jazz psychedelic in that sense. It's mind bending and dreamy."
Regardless, the man isn't clueless about the clear parallels between Dungen's swirling guitar in 2016 on Allas Sak and Strawberry Alarm Clock's swirling guitar in 1967 on Incense and Peppermints. "But the '60s stuff is a big inspiration among a lot of different stuff," he says.
Allas Sak, Dungen's latest offering that dropped last September by way of Mexican Summer, stays in tune with the band's 1960s-era paisley aesthetic established several album cycles ago. However, this go takes its title‚ which translates roughly into English as "everyone's thing‚" across proverbial shoulders like a cozy sound cape.
Ejstes effectively communicates distinct emotions, despite what could constitute as a language barrier for much of Dungen's audience. "I put a lot of effort into the lyrics and it's very important to me," he says, noting a bulk of his writing is in Swedish. "Though I've learned that it really doesn't matter what I mean or say. Not just from those who don't understand Swedish, people get their own stories from the songs. I think that's beautiful."
He has a good point. Even with shared language, listeners are wont to experience selective hearing or pull a unique meaning that may better apply to their current situation. Take for example almost any Bob Dylan song: Sure, it may be sung in English and you, too, may know English, but realistically, can there exist an authority on what the hell a "leopard-skin pill-box hat" means symbolically? The answer here is no.
Allas Sak pairs trademark psychedelic strings with a lot of piano on top of a number of other audio textural components. "Åkt Dit" ("Gone There" in English) features horns that thud around like a wizened old bullfrog in a swamp of sexy bass line reeds. It very much emanates an "over it" vibe way before copy-pasting the song title into Google Translate. The title track has more of those amphibious horns made further ebullient by what sounds like a tinkering music box and closing out with a chimes glissando before seamlessly fading into the next track. Although the full-length runs the emotional spectrum gamut, "Sisten Gästen" sucks on begrudged acceptance (to my ears) while "En Dag På Sjön" encapsulates the pure rapture of a rare afternoon nap (again, maybe only me), it overall feels like a meticulously sculpted ode to joy.
In a large sense, Allas Sak and Ejstes as an artist reminds us of art's inherent subjectivity and man's compulsion to see or hear what he wants to see or hear. Through this philosophy, Ejstes stays humble, continuing to make music in a very selfless way. "It's more and more obvious for me how the music could mean so much different stuff to people," he says. "As long as the music is released, it's no longer just ours‚ it's anyone's who wants it."