NUCLEAR BLAST RECORDSBY ERIK SUGG
Oh, Sweden. Cold, Scandinavian country of the northern hemisphere known for its socialism, potted herring, beautiful women, and its friendly, near-timid, residents whenever they’re not shooting their prime minister. Sweden is also known for music–well written and well executed music, often rivaling seminal musical countries like the United States and England. Whether it’s classic Swedish prog groups like November or Kebnekaise, death metal bands like Entombed or At the Gates, retro garage rock like the Hellacopters and The Hives, or the current wave of doom traditionalists like Graveyard and Witchcraft, it’s doubtful you’ll find a music lover who doesn’t celebrate at least one Swedish group in their catalog. Besides, everyone has a secret soft spot for Abba, right?
Blues Pills is the latest talent to blast out of Sweden and into our collective orbit, (although the band technically features members from all over the globe). The band emerged in 2011 and immediately took the European festival scene by storm with their good looks, their flowing locks, and their ‘69-era Fleetwood Mac-infused sound. If you’re reading these words, rolling your eyes and groaning, “Just what need… ANOTHER Swedish retro band,” just stop there. These soulful, psychedelic blues rockers will make you eat those words. Blues Pills is inventive and authentic, and is sure to blaze through seas of mediocrity and apathy to shine like the stars these incredibly young musicians were born to be. Their self titled debut, courtesy of Nuclear Blast, may very well be one of the best releases of 2014.
Let’s get one thing out of the way. This band has the word “blues” in their name. Whenever the words “blues” and “rock” are compounded, most people want to run for the hills. It’s like an instantaneous anti-Clapton/SRV firewall is put into place to save listeners’ brains from an onslaught of soulless, overproduced blues “product.” Well, fear not because that’s not what you will be getting with Blues Pills. What you will be getting is a shit-hot rocker chock full of sickeningly impressive riffing, bone shaking rhythms, and probably the most soulful singing you’ve heard in the past decade. Lead lady, Elin Larsson, is a throwback to everyone’s favorite female vocalists from the ‘60s, but it would be way too easy to pigeonhole her as a Janis Joplin or Mariska Veres clone. In fact, had she been a contemporary of those powerful ladies, she would have undoubtedly stolen their thunder and headlined their same festival circuits. Larsson’s voice is like honey dripping from the bough of a rare flower, beautiful and sweet, but tough and caustic. It lures you like a siren lures a sailor to a rocky death. In the fantastic, “Black Smoke,” she seduces you with her melancholy jazz tones, but shifts to a blues-laden sex scowl at the drop of a hat. Album opener, “High Class Woman,” showcases Larsson’s knack for using her disciplined pipes to follow muted instrumentation and then kick things into overdrive with the mighty chorus.
As you delve further into the record, you’ll quickly learn that Elin Larsson is not the only star of the band. French guitarist, Dorian Sorriaux, an 18 year old prodigy who plays like Peter Green jamming with “Cry of Love”-era Hendrix, takes the band’s hellfire blues into an even deeper ring of fire. Sorriaux is destined to become one of those John McLaughlin types, a true mastermind whose ability transcends his young age and brings him into the foreground of the scene that embraces him. His tones, his dynamics, his knowing when not to play and when to go for the jugular, are the things that make a good guitarist legendary. In “Jupiter,” Dorian gives a little taste of just how heavy he’s capable of getting. The tune begins with some low-end fuzz and wah-wah that’s sure to delight the stoners, then grooves along perfectly with Larsson’s vocal harmonies. He gets his cosmic blues going in “Astralplane,” probably the album’s darkest moment, made even gloomier with his excellent use of echo, (not to mention the hair-raising solo that follows Larsson’s howl, “The sky is black, just like my soul!”)
Blues Pills will do well. They will be a band that gains an audience. They will sell records. They will earn the respect of their contemporaries. Hell, they may even break through the heavily manufactured music market of the United States and become at least “as” big as bands like The Black Keys or Jack White’s current offerings. Throwback bands generally take a gamble on their vitality, particularly during this age of profoundly short attention spans. However, with a band like Blues Pills, who have the power of youth on their side and who are already rich in the kind of talent that most musicians could never muster in a lifetime, those black skies and heavenly planes they enjoy singing about seem to be well within their grasp.