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Branching out 

Scandinavian psych-folk-rock finds wide appeal with Dungen

Aladdin has his lamp. Neptune his trident. Samson his hair. Venus her snatch.

Hip-hop has two turntables and a microphone. Rock 'n' roll has a cucumber wrapped in tinfoil, or at the very least, a sock stuffed inside tight leather trousers.

There are many mythical items helping define both cultural and musical icons and epochs. For Swedish psych-folk-rock collective Dungen, it's an early '60s German "Echolet" echo box. Apparently, Venus' snatch isn't the only thing with an echo here.

One of many vintage items owned by Dungen lead guitarist Reine Fiske, the tape echo helps give Gustav Ejstes' compositions both hefty presence and expansive expression. Dungen, however, is neither mythical nor antiquated; though on first listen some might swear Dungen's latest -- 2004's critically acclaimed import Ta Det Lugnt, just released domestically with bonus tracks -- was recorded while rock 'n' roll was still in its experimental teens.

"People who enjoy our music are mixed," says Ejstes by phone from Sweden, where Dungen has just returned following a U.K. tour. "Some say we are from 30 years ago, and some think we are a new kind of music." Ejstes considers both correct.

According to Ejstes, Fiske brings not only a knotty virtuosity but also a wealth of vintage equipment to Dungen's aqueous, lysergically laced tones, which are currently generated by a quartet centered around Ejstes. He has engineered and produced the primary material himself since his 2001 debut on Swedish label Subliminal Sounds.

"Dungen" is a word that refers to a grove of trees, but also to a specific house where Ejstes first began the project. The less literal meaning is most appropriate, however, listening to the acid rock-meets-free jazz cloisters of Ta Det Lugnt. Multitracked vocals hover over crepuscular, chiming guitars, piano and sax that suddenly flare their nostrils and reach a gnarled gallop akin to Hawkwind or Traffic jamming with Keith Moon. While on another song, mesmeric strings lie reverently supine across the reflection of pirouetting flutes in the puddle of Syd Barrett's eye before unfurling like a Hendrix Experience.

Ta Det Lugnt echoes not only with hints of musical heritage, however, but also from the hills of its creation. With only 9 million people, Sweden has tract upon tract of open space, which inspires Ejstes.

"My creative process works best if I'm isolated, and here in Sweden it's not hard to find places for that. However, I record inside. It's more easy to get electricity inside," chuckles Ejstes.

"I did move around a lot with recording, however," says Ejstes. "I had to go to places for different musicians I wanted to contribute. Because they think everything sounds older, people are always surprised to hear I record to computer, but it is convenient. For example, my father plays the strings on Ta Det Lugnt and I went to his house to record him."

Ejstes' musician father introduced him to Swedish folk -- a melancholic, fiddle-based form that echoes hundreds of years of both fire and life and soot and hardship, a tradition Dungen resonates.

The final element of alchemy comprising Dungen is summed up in the album title Ta Det Lugnt, which translates as "take it easy." The album is a collection of Ejstes' personal, sometimes contemptuous observations -- non-narrative thoughts he is not concerned about others understanding, even those who actually speak Swedish, because he sees the voice as just another instrument in a final product that is thoroughly uplifting.

"We went to Brazil and there were girls who said they work to live, while they said in the U.S.A. people live to work," says Ejstes. "I think Swedes are more into living for their work, and there is a lot of stress. I want my album to say 'take it easy' because if you think work or football or music is a religion, it turns it into something bad. Music to me is to be honest and free of worry as to what is the only right thing to do right now. You have to eat, sleep and shit, the rest is important but not life and death."

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