In 1996, when Club 8 released its first album, Nouvelle, various zines and indie music mags described the Swedish duo's sound as “Astrud Gilberto gone indie-pop.” While the group's music did indeed bear a resemblance to Gilberto's atmospheric bossa nova, it wasn't intentional, as the band hadn't even heard Gilberto's records. In fact, in an interview in Swedish indie-pop zine Benno, Club 8 songwriter Johan Angergård dismissed many of the usual '60s musical influences, saying, “The Kinks, the Small Faces, the Jam, and the Who are the four most overrated bands in the world.” Angergård preferred small local groups to big names, although he admitted to being influenced by the Smiths, especially Morrissey's dour songwriting.
This influence is even more obvious on Club 8's self-titled third LP, on which Angergård ditches his earlier, summery lyrics and musical backdrops, aiming steadfastly toward a winter vibe that recommends staying indoors and warding off the elements.
Luckily, the band's newfound insularity hasn't stopped it from delivering a suite of compelling, beautifully arranged tunes (albeit with occasionally graceless lyrics). From the first notes of the album's opener, “Love in December,” Club 8 reveals darker programmed beats than in the past, along with ominous synthesizer washes and moody, brushed drums. Karolina Komstedt sings in her usual hushed, honeyed tone, only now Angergård's words mix sorrow and desire until the difference is blurred.
On “Hope for Winter,” Komstedt hunkers down for a long Scandinavian hibernation, crooning, “The brightness of springtime/ Makes you, makes me/ Feel down.” Then, amongst a forbidding wall of percussion and synth, Komstedt offers a cautionary tale of a relationship's end in “Say a Prayer,” singing breathily, “If you want it all/ And I don't want anything/ Then this is all in vain.” Add in the occasional counterpoint crooning of guest vocalist Lasse Lindh, and you have a recipe for bittersweet confections.
Whether any of this pretty navel-gazing can deliver Club 8 from the oblivion of its “Swedish indie-pop” tag is hard to tell. In interviews Angergård seems to want to remain obscure, while also longing to be more widely known. His struggle is one faced by any artist with an evolving vision: How do you widen the scope of your sound without diluting the contents?