Maybe it's the lingering, not altogether positive memory of exposure to ABBA during my childhood, but Sweden has been noticeably absent from the musical map in my head all of my adult life. Now don't get me wrong - I'm all for the occasional kitschy, light-hearted romp with a best of ABBA compilation (singing along while doing exactly that got me a speeding ticket one time...another reason my appreciation of ABBA isn't all that it might be), but the appeal is just that, kitsch. Lots of kitsch.
But something's been brewing in that cold land for a while now, fueled, I suspect, by the highly understandable desire to make global reparations for ABBA. Oh I kid, I kid! (Although they probably do want to update their popular musical image...I mean, if your country was known almost exclusively for a Liberace-esque costume wearing 70s band with lots of feathered and facial hair....)
Anyway, the point is there's some great music coming out of Sweden now, I kid you not. For instance, check out Peter Bjorn & John's Writer's Block - they have an awesome lyrical sound and infectious but not mind-invading tunes. Where ABBA was relentlessly pop and no rock, PB&J (in addition to being a delicious sandwich) have a more varied sound that includes both rock qualities and what I like to think of as more complex pop as well - sometimes driving, sometimes lilting, sometimes atmospheric. Not an acoustic band, they do use a richer variety of instruments including Spanish guitar, tubular bells, and the oft-overlooked footsteps.
See what I'm saying? Try more of them on MySpace.
For something a little different, a little more produced but extremely creative, try Lykke Li's debut album Youth Novels (on MySpace). Or the slightly moodier, beautiful sounds of Radio Dept's Pet Grief (on MySpace).
Don't quite know what's going on in Sweden these days, but in addition to killer pancakes, they're making some great music...and all is forgiven. ;-)