When Torbjörn Abelli of Sweden’s renowned Träd Gräs Och Stenar said of Nova Express’ One album on its release in 2001 that "This album will mature and be perfect 20 years from now" he was bang on the money. As long term forecasting goes this has to rank as the gold standard. A shame he never got to see it bear such fruit. Forward twenty years later and the original double album has received a re-master, a re-sequence and has been trimmed down to a single disc. And it’s all thanks to Rocket Recordings and their frighteningly impressive and efficient Swedish underground network.
What is it with Rocket and Swedes? No, that’s not an on-trend recipe out of the Guardian Saturday food supplement, by the way. I mean what is it that Chris Reeder and John O'Carroll have tapped into , a sort of sonic Scandi noir (except the vinyl is so rarely black these days) Twenty One continues a recent trend of breathing fresh life into what would otherwise have continued to be neglected gems - see Terrascope’s Urdog review from March 2021. If anything, this one is even more special. In fact it’s a truly remarkable reminder of the days when the ears were fresher and the mind still malleable and receptive. Verily, we have returned to the sunlit uplands of yesteryear.
If you can imagine organic, psychedelic riffing on a basic theme of Moondog’s ‘Bird’s Lament’ then you are already some way towards appreciating Twenty One. It seems a strange thing to admit, coming from a rudimentary guitarist very much attached to his strings, but there is a refreshing lack of reliance on guitars throughout. It serves to free the sound and allows for greater exploration on the part of the listener and, one might daresay, the musicians. Lars Ydgren’s clarinet may be an unlikely lead instrument in the rock canon but, together with his sax and flute and with, Henrik Khilberg’s keys, can lay claim to being the defining sound of Nova Express. Acker Bilk it ain’t. The clarinet provides a warmth and mellowness that lends the album this a laid back and almost pastoral feel...
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