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Club 8: Lush Swedish Indie from Labrador Records

God, I love this band!  They truly stand out as an example of artists getting more creative, more immediate, and more enchanting as they grow and mature.

Formed out of the ashes of indie pop band Poprace, Sweden’s Club 8 (Karolina Komstedt and Johan Angergård) released their first album “Nouvelle” on Spanish indie-darling record label Siesta Records in 1995. Originally featuring a twee, indie sound, it would prove to be their only album on Siesta, and their only truly twee album.

Since then, they have released 9 more albums, their latest, “Golden Island” dropped in 2018. What a strange, beautiful trip it has been so far! Let’s take a look back… by all means, as you read, press play on the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page!

Their sophomore outing, “The Friend I Once Had” was released on another indie-darling label, March Records in the US, and featured a more Latin flavored, sophisticated indie-pop sound, especially evident on the lovely bossa-nova groove of “Tomorrow Never Comes”. The new album’s slight change in direction really showcased Komstedt’s clear, bright, breathy vocal style, and allowed multi-instrumentalist Angergård to experiment with whatever mood struck his fancy within the confines of the “Club 8 sound”.

I am guessing that it was the success of these first two albums that encouraged Johan Angergård to form his very own record company in his native Sweden, Labrador Records, with Club 8 becoming Labrador’s de-facto poster children.

It is after this second album that we start to run into some trouble though.

Perhaps there was hesitation to branch out too far from the sound that had brought them recognition. Perhaps there was pressure to produce further successful albums to keep the fledgling Labrador Records in the black?

Another possibility is that, because Johan Angergård has always had his hand in a number of projects he felt that he should keep the Club 8 sound unique within it’s own niche. He is a full time member and primary songwriter for four bands concurrently, Club 8, Acid House Kings, Airliner, and The Legends (though his “base of operations” is Club 8).

Whatever the case, the sound and formula developed on 1998’s “The Friend I Once Had” heavily informed the next three Club 8 albums, with (in my humble opinion) diminishing returns. This isn’t to say that I’m not a fan of early Club 8.  Back in the day, as each album was released, the newness of the songs allowed them to shine and become well-loved additions to the discography. It is only now, with nearly 20 years distance, that we can perceive these first few albums through a different lens, one which paints them as far-too-similar,

Early albums “Club 8” (2001), “Spring Came, Rain Fell” (2002) and “Strangely Beautiful” (2003) are so similar in sound and production that they tend to melt into each other. The early Club 8 sound, though gorgeous, tends to be a little homogeneous. There is a sameness about it that occasionally produces some wonderful songs, but mostly just blends into the background.  That said, there are a lot of treasures to be found here. One of my favourites is “We Set Ourselves Free” from “Spring Came, Rain Fell” which channels the bass from Saint Etienne‘s “Nothing Can Stop Us”.

With the exception of “Nouvelle“, which I’ve just never been able to connect with, I like the gentle purity of the songs and the vibe.  I remember eagerly buying each album as it came out and being enchanted by the music and the feelings it evoked. I especially recall how excited I was when “Strangely Beautiful” was released and I was given a tiny little A4-sized glossy poster of the album sleeve as a bonus for having pre-ordered it! (Yes, I still have that little poster and have it safely stored with my well-loved treasures!)

It is really once they took an extended break (4 years!) and gave themselves the freedom to loosen up and follow their artistic muse that the band became something truly special (circa 2007).

Throughout 2004 to 2006, as well as running his successful Labrador Records label, Angergård was busy recording with his other bands (releasing three albums with The Legends, one with Airliner, and one with Acid House Kings). These bands allowed him a creative outlet for different sounds and different band dynamics. It seems that once he got it out of his system, he was ready to turn his attention back to Club 8.

In 2007, Club 8 returned with the beautifully crafted “The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming“. It is hard to say that it was a return to form because, though it feels immediately like the next Club 8 album, it was the beginning of Club 8‘s renaissance. It is also an album that will likely have fans of Belle and Sebastian swooning a little.

The first single, “Jesus Walk With Me” channels the same gentle vibe of the earlier albums, but it is somehow gentler and even more delicate. It is an interesting choice for an album opening because, although it is soothing and welcoming to old fans, it provides a false sense that the album will be more of what we had come to expect from Club 8. What we are treated to instead, is something on a very different level. Super chill tracks like “Leave the North” and “Everything Goes”, with their minimalist, cool, keyboard backing tracks, are very unlike earlier albums, and yet they feel soothingly familiar and inviting. In fact, “Leave the North”, with it’s delicate intermittent pipe percussion is reminiscent (to me) of Depeche Mode circa “Construction Time Again” (specifically “Pipeline”).

It’s subtle, as is everything Club 8, but it is there is serious experimentation happening for you to find in the mix. This is the album where you can almost FEEL them pushing at the boundaries of their craft. It is an album made by a band in flux, and it was their strongest album in years! There are a couple of very typical Club 8 tracks on here, but groovy songs like “Heaven” and “Sometimes” would not have fit on any earlier albums. This album is a real delight!

Fast forward a few years, and Club 8 were back with 2010’s “The People’s Record“. Like Johan Angergård’s concurrently released Acid House Kings album “Music Sounds Better With You“, this album was greatly influenced by South American rhythms and instruments (castanets!). It is very easy to see where his head was at when he was writing these songs. There is a LOT going on here! There is rhythm upon rhythm upon melody upon groove. This album was jaw dropping upon its release because it sounds like nothing the band had ever done before, and it was the beginning of the current iteration of Club 8, where nothing they do sounds like anything else they’ve ever done.

The People’s Record” is still one of my favourite of their albums, You really can’t help but smile and dance when it’s playing, regardless of the songs’ subject matter. Yes, the music is upbeat and delightful, but the songs take on serious subjects such as death and mental illness. It’s a mind blowing album. This is the first Club 8 album to feature what feels like a complete story, a complete scene, a complete genre, and a complete message. There isn’t a bad song on here. There are no songs that you will go out of your way to skip during playback. Finally abandoning the twee acoustic guitar for good, Club 8 has embraced the bass and given in to bongos and maracas (and the aforementioned castanets!). Highlights include “My Pessimistic Heart”, “Dancing With the Mentally Ill” and “Western Hospitality”.

The People’s Record” was also the first album that I bought directly from the record label on vinyl!

By this time, I had already officially made the switch from CDs to vinyl, and Club 8 was one of the artists whose vinyl I was really disappointed to be unable to get my hands on. Having been released initially in very small quantities of 200 copies apiece, the vinyl editions of the earlier Club 8 albums were simply too expensive. Suddenly, however, with the imminent release of “The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming“, Labrador Records was re-issuing most of Club 8‘s back catalog on vinyl at an affordable price (the exception being “Nouvelle” which, I’m guessing, they didn’t have the reissue rights to)!

Once these showed up at my door, I was delighted to rediscover the music on these albums and add them to a place of honor in my collection. I was also thrilled to finally hear my beloved Club 8 in the true, uncompressed and full-ranged reproduction of warm vinyl. (Of course, I went full-on crazy and bought as many of the other Labrador Bands on vinyl that I could find, but that is yet another story for another time!).

Having owned the first few albums solely on CD, I can honestly attest to the fact that there is a world of difference between the CD and vinyl listening experience with these albums. For me, the vinyl connected more to my spirit. I’ve said it before in other articles, but there is something about vinyl that connects to you in a more visceral way than CD. Yes, the music will technically sound the same note-for-note but with music on vinyl, there is a connection that can be made between the listener and the artist. I don’t believe that this connection is present when listening to music on CD, though I don’t think this is any fault of digital music itself (but that is yet another discussion for another time, haha!).

2013’s “Above the City” is where Club 8 has finally given themselves over to the joy of pop, dance music, and synthesizer. This is once more an album that emerged from out of left field. Still channeling a bit of rhythm from the previous album, Komstedt and Angergård finally hit the high of capturing the essence of their early sound, but throwing it together with the joy of abandon featured on “The People’s Record” and letting loose on the dance floor. Tracks like “Stop Taking My Time” and “I Don’t Wanna Grow Old” call forth of the spirit of Giorgio Moroder and just get down to it. Early OMD gets a nod to in the form of the drum track for “You Could Be Anybody”, and you can feel their love of Erasure and Human League scattered around this album as well. This album was a delight!

Then in 2015, they released “Pleasure“. In the five years (at time of writing) since it’s release, I have yet to be able to connect with this album fully. It is only recently that I have found myself enjoying it. Perhaps having heard it in fits and spurts over the years has finally succeeded in rendering the songs familiar? Maybe it was five years ahead of it’s time?

I believe that an artist’s state of mind can be gleaned through exposure to their work. To my mind, this is an angry, despairing, disappointed, cynical album. Angergård must have been coming off a particularly devastating breakup when this album was being put together. It feels like he wants to make pop music, but he also wants to smash something with his fists. It’s as if you can feel his pain and frustration on every single track. Perhaps I am too sensitive?

When I first heard this album, I couldn’t resonate with it at all. To my mind, rather than a new album from Club 8, it felt more like Angergård was engaging in a personal exercise to purge himself of his recent heartbreak. I admit that I was very disappointed when it came out and didn’t find the music particularly engaging: too moody. Although I can appreciate it now, it is a difficult album.

Going into it expecting a sequel to “Above the City” may have been my initial mistake. Unlike that album, “Pleasure” is more Ladytron and less Lady Gaga. It has an icy dispassion about it. There is no joyful abandon or exuberance on this mid-tempo synthpop offering. A lot of the album feels half-formed, and amorphous, as if they didn’t have the energy or motivation to come up with clever endings or counter melodies. It took me these past five years to finally “get” it: it is supposed to hurt. I think the title is meant to be ironic. It is a gem of an album, but it needs to be approached in the right way in order to appreciate it.

After “Pleasure“, I wasn’t sure what to expect if/when Club 8 got back together for a new outing.

2018’s “Golden Island” is an album that will immediately make the listener wonder WTF. WOW….! WTF?? but WOW! I can only assume that Angergård did some major soul searching since the release of “Pleasure” because this album feels like a mystical awakening set to music.

Right from the start, “Swimming with the Tide” sets the tone for the whole album. The music crawls along at the speed of a deep meditative exhalation, its beautiful steady bass keeping time like a heartbeat. The bass remains predominant throughout this album, always there guiding us through the trip to the island.

Karolina Komstedt’s breathy vocals have never felt so ethereal and other worldly. By the time “Swimming With the Tide” really gets going, she is joined by a kind of chanting that feels ritualistic and healing. The album only gets more far-out from there. On the next track, “Breathe”, we are treated to what can only be described as copper bowls full of water being struck, their melodious tones conveying the rhythm as well as the melody, their chimes riding up and down your chakras. There is the sound of waves against a shoreline, there is the sound of wind, and there is the sound of being on a beach with the blue sky above you. Truly, this album is a tour of some magical island of Komstedt and Angergård’s making, and each song carries you along on to the next stop on your visit.

“Lost” feels like it is carrying you through the Dreamtime, with strange shamanistic chanting and whispers. Again, Club 8 shows off their love of Depeche Mode because I clearly hear sounds that seem inspired by songs “It Doesn’t Matter” and “Behind the Wheel”. As the album progresses, various sounds come and go. Some songs, such as “Pacific”, feature subtle bird calls and what sounds almost like gentle steel drums. Some tracks, like “You’ve Got Heart”, are mere pit stops along the way, while other tracks like “Fire” and “Touch You” bring you deep into the soul of the island. Unusually for a Club 8 album, “Golden Island” features what feels like a number of small vignettes, instrumental tracks that add to the general atmosphere. If you lie back and close your eyes, you can visualize the beaches, hills, and forests of the island. At least… I can!

Golden Island” is a cleansing of the palate after the heartbreak of 2015’s “Pleasure”; it is an album made with renewed energy and spirit. I would even go so far as to say that it is a Yang to the Yin of “Pleasure”, embracing the feminine and the various mysteries surrounding her. “Got to Live”, with it’s mystic chanting that sounds channeled from deep within an ancient sacred cave, seem to sum of the whole experience: this album is a rebirth, not just for Club 8, but for Komstedt and Angergård themselves.

“You got to live before you know how to die, you gotta die before you know how to live,” she sings. I think they’ve come out of the darkness and they want to take us dancing with them into the light.

I can’t wait to see where they go next, because this album was a beautiful, cleansing, mindful, deep, and transcendental mind blower! ….but don’t mistake it for New Age… it’s definitely pop as only Club 8 can do it.

You deserve to discover Club 8.

  • Nouvelle (1996)  3/5
  • The Friend I Once Had (1998)  4/5
  • Club 8 (2001)  4/5
  • Spring Came, Rain Fell (2002)   3½/5
  • Strangely Beautiful (2003)  3/5
  • The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming (2007)  4½/5
  • The People’s Record (2010)  4½/5
  • Above the City (2013)  4½/5
  • Pleasure (2015)  4½/5
  • Golden Island (2018)  5/5

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