Framtiden ar ett Svavande Skepp, Forankrat I Forntide
ramtiden är ett Svävande Skepp, Förankrat i Forntiden, the first and better of storied Swedish space rock band Älgarnas Trädgård’s two LPs, is difficult to place within the psychedelic pantheon. The album’s jarring juxtaposition of improvised, barely-there acoustic drone and manic, effect-laden avant-garde pop makes for a dicey ride. Even if you’ve got an ear for this kind of stuff, Framtiden will test your patience. But the record isn’t quite kooky or iconoclastic enough to qualify as a genuine cult classic—it sounds like dad rock when compared to gnarlier oddities like Basil Kirchin’s Abstractions of the Industrial North. You can also point to scores of other artists from the early 1970s who executed Framtiden’s more effectively and daringly; King Crimson, Faust, and Third Ear Band spring immediately to mind.
So like many other acid folk slabs from 1972 that get the reissue treatment, Älgarnas Trädgård’s debut has a reputation (check out the gushing remarks from the usually spot-on Aquarius Records staff) that eclipses its actual content. But most of us accept situations like these as givens when we realize that few Nixon-era collectors’ grails are as good as Just Another Diamond Day or the first Neu! album. There’s still a draw here; Framtiden might be flawed, but it begs to be engaged as more than a wallpaper-y nostalgia trip. Ask yourself why a band of competent musicians with a sizeable arsenal of instruments would create such taxing music, and don’t let “drugs” be your final answer.
Start by listening to “Two Hours over Two Blue Mountains with a Cuckoo on Each Side, of the Hours… That Is.” It’s a doom ‘n’ gloom funeral march, a parade of ominous violins and ritualistic gongs that sounds like Mahavishnu Orchestra sans John McLaughlin. The song caves in on itself towards the end, a blitz of backwards electronics and sampled conversation short-circuiting the procession. And then hear “Children of Possibilities” follow a similar trajectory as a sawing cello and medieval vocal line trail off into a forest of echo. In both instances, future-anxiety pervades. Electronics, the studio, modernity—these forces dissolve the real-time, communal, tradition-grounded group-playing. Rather than impose order on not-fully-baked folk noodlings, these studio edits amplify the acoustic music’s disorder.
If this reading seems like a bit of a stretch, consider that the album’s title translates as The Future Is a Hovering Ship Anchored in the Past. More suggestive is the title track itself: with its sinister zither line, spooky sound effects, and insistent heartbeat percussion, the song sounds like the climax to a horror movie. This space-age piece of sonic cinema is just as addled and ambling as one of the band’s folksy excursions.
Älgarnas Trädgård’s vision of a bankrupt horizon stands in stark contrast to the seductive, hyper-modern otherworlds that Can and Eno were fabricating during the same period, and with social scientists telling us that we’re no happier now than we were a half-century ago, Framtiden’s grim forecasts now appear alarmingly accurate. But like so much brutally honest, mirror-brandishing art, this album offers no alluring alternatives to the realities it reflects. More so than off-putting space-outs and a dearth of groundbreaking experimentation, this endless-bummer vibe relegates Älgarnas Trädgård’s music to the fringes.
Reviewed by: Phillip Buchan
Reviewed on: 2007-01-02