The Concretes
Sun Oct 17,
Neumo's, 9:30 pm,
$10 adv./ $12 DOS.

Pop music. It's in the lilt of her laugh, the wave of her hair. It's Phil Spector holding the Ramones prisoner at gunpoint just 'cause he wanted to hang out. It's Swedish--the frozen-over lakes, the clubs, the ABBA hits, the drowsy-lidded ladies stretching languorously and limpid, pretending not to be aware of the effect they're creating. It's the decadent knee-high-booted splendor of such minimal girly pop bands as L.A.'s turn of the '90s somnambulist pariahs, Mazzy Star and...

It's the Concretes.

"I tend to call everything pop music that's not heavy metal," explains Concretes drummer Lisa Milberg. "We've never had that thing in Sweden where pop music comes into or goes out of fashion. In most cases, pop music can't be too perfect. I like it when a song's about to break or slightly off course. I can never get deeply moved by slick, perfectly produced music."

To be more precise, pop music is the Concretes' eponymous new album, with songs like "You Can't Hurry Love," "New Friend," and the all-out gorgeous "Say Something New" jostling lazily for space with the likes of Kendra Smith's enflamed Opal and the Jesus and Mary Chain's nonviolent side. Guitar strings slide. Rhythms wobble. Victoria Bergsman's ethereal harmonies soar, like Tom Waits given keys to his childhood's toy cabinet.

"It's been kind of crazy," Milberg explains of the attention the band's garnered. "Today, I bought a drum kit. It's the first one I've ever had. I borrowed the previous one for six years."

Milberg should know all about pop: She's partly responsible for an MTV2 (Europe) program called This Is Our Music where she and others interview likeminded souls (the Pastels, Japanese pastoral art terrorists Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Clinic) in their home cities. Bands that stand out from the hubbub and mewling major-label sheep simply 'cause they're so warm, human, and frail.

"I really like CocoRosie [two sisters from NYC who create magical art rock with toy instruments and operatic singing] because they're taking pop music to a new place," Milberg says. "There's a new band from London called the Magic Numbers: They sound a bit like the Mamas and the Papas, two guys and two girls, sisters and brothers. There are so many bands I love... I had a club night once a week in Stockholm called Soft Machine [after the '60s band and also English folk singer Robert Wyatt], where I played slow songs and ballads from [South American actress and singer] Juana Molina, Devandra Banhart. I'm obsessed with old folk."

Please don't mention the Cardigans to the Concretes, though. Milberg's fellow Swedes never fulfilled their early promise, sadly--the latter were too concerned with chasing the corporate dollar, soundtracking films like Romeo and Juliet. You can't imagine the Concretes falling into the same trap: They've been around for a while now, in love with the myriad sparkling possibilities of pop music. Much as we critics like to think of our pop music springing fully formed from nowhere, this is patently not the case when it comes to this Swedish octet. They even have connections with Seattle.

"I have been to America quite a few times," Milberg states, "but we've never played there. We were meant to play there a few years ago--we had an album out on Up [Boy, You Better Run Now, summer 2000], but I guess you know that whole tragedy.

"In Sweden, we put out two 10-inch EPs, in '98 and '99. I sent five copies out of the second one, including a copy to Up. I just wanted them to have it 'cause they put out the Pastels' album. The day they got it, they sent an e-mail. But we never met with Chris Takino, the guy who owned the label, before he died... that was very sad. So we started from the beginning again.

"One guy from Up formed a label called Above Ground, which turned out to be a very unsuitable name: We put out another EP called Nationalgeographic and had a big party in Sweden to celebrate. The week it was due out in the States, the guy vanished with all the copies of the record, and we haven't heard from him since. We know he's hanging around in Seattle somewhere...

"It's like a Cinderella story," she surmises, "with a sad ending." Hopefully, though, that's not the case anymore.

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