Not Just Dessert | The Sweet Sounds of Cake on Cake

The surface sparkle of the music is always an invitation to go deeper, where melancholy thoughts and joyful reverie occur in equal measure.



at Off Broadway
w/Robynn Ragland and The Aquatic Record
Wed., Nov. 15
| 9 p.m.
| 18+ | 314-773-3363


There's something about Cake on Cake's music that twinkles. It's not just the evocative, childlike simplicity of the songs, on which the band's young Swedish wunderkind, Helena Sundin, plays most of the assorted instruments herself. It's the twinkle of half-remembered dreams, and perhaps the sensation of drifting in and out of sleep while pondering the ups and downs of life and love. The music reflects those moments of stillness where your head is in your hand, slightly cocked, and a bit of strong emotion, perhaps wistful sadness, suddenly overtakes you. I Guess I Was Daydreaming is the title of Cake on Cake's new record, and it's perfectly apt, considering the nature of Sundin's wispy, electronica-laced tunes.



"Daydreaming makes good song material," said Sundin, preparing for her second big tour of the United States. "Because when you're in the middle of a daydream, it feels very real, as if it's actually happening. And sometimes I push my daydreams in certain directions to put myself in an emotional stage, where I can write about this or that."

Sundin's first recorded outing as Cake on Cake, I See No Stars, was released last year to positive reviews. Her Swedish homeland is mostly known for serving up infinite permutations of fiery garage rock or melancholic/melodic indie pop, but the delicacy and gentleness of Cake on Cake's sound immediately distinguish it as something truly special. One can sense a preoccupation with childhood in Sundin's aesthetic – an awareness that a sense of wonder can be imperiled by growing older. But it goes a little deeper than that for her.

"I've always worked a great deal with nostalgia," she said. "Lyrically, I work with texts that are uncomplicated and there is sometimes a naïve honesty. It's just like saying ‘I miss you' or ‘I am sad,' but beneath the simplicity there's another layer that's actually very serious. The text needs the emotional tension in my voice to have a meaning. And the music works the same; it's very simple but complicated at the same time."

I Guess I Was Daydreaming is filled with tunes that illustrate Sundin's point. You can find yourself drifting far away as you listen to well-named tunes such as "Sparrow Parade," "Lost Friendship," "You Make My Heart Say Yes," and the sweetly melancholy "Faces on a Photo." "There's a smile on my face," Sundin sings in that latter tune, but you get the clear impression that other feelings accompany her observation, such as inexpressible yearning or regret. The surface sparkle of the music is always an invitation to go deeper, where melancholy thoughts and joyful reverie occur in equal measure. Sundin seems uncommonly connected to her songs; there's no sense that she's had to step outside herself to compose them. They are based on her very real experiences, she says.

"When I wrote ‘The Accident' on the new record, I had just fallen off my bike pretty hard, and I did get quite hurt. Still very emotionally messed up, I sat down and wrote this song that ended up being different than I expected. It was really beautiful! Often it works like that when I make music, that I take a feeling and put it in the song. The emotional state, at least in my case, can very often be heard through the voice, and there is no way to fake this. Honesty is a key word…"

No one listening to I Guess I Was Daydreaming (due officially this February but available for sale on Sundin's U.S. tour this month) or the previous CoC record would likely say they heard anything but the pure, unfiltered sound of a vulnerable human being expressing themselves fully and openly through their art. Sundin's ability to remain so authentic and emotive in a music that's very layered and electronica-based is inspiring, and to do it virtually on her own – though she's backed by sideman and Desolation Records head Josh Penn on tour – is a more than impressive feat. One would think this a daunting approach to music-making, but Sundin says otherwise.

"It feels easier to only have myself to deal with. I write my songs out of improvisations, and most of the time they are very personal. So the recording/writing process is a sensitive matter that requires privacy. I do have people helping me out musically sometimes, but to actually have a band…I'm too much of a solo artist and perfectionist."

Stylistically, the combination of ethereal romanticism and vague sadness in Sundin's work is reminiscent of Julee's Cruise's contributions to director David Lynch's sound world in Twin Peaks. This is particularly true on wistful songs like "Lost Friendship" and the melodic "Emmylou and You," on which Sundin sings "I love to miss you sometimes." It's easy to imagine such tunes accompanying a bittersweet scene in a film. The Cruise comparison rings true for Sundin.

"I'm familiar with Julee Cruise's soundtrack work," she said. "I do like the fragility between melancholy, fear, and beauty in her songs. Also I'd really to make soundtracks for a movie one day. I've been making a couple of soundtracks to short films by a friend of mine, and I find it really interesting. It's definitely something I could imagine myself doing more of in the future."

Meanwhile, Cake on Cake is getting discovered by fans around the world, many of them spellbound by the samples they hear on the band's MySpace site.

"Once I got an e-mail from a boy in Indonesia who really liked my music, and that was a very nice thing," said Sundin. "So I posted him a CD. I can't say that I attract a certain type of fan; I think there is a wide range. But I do get a lot of messages from people who like the music very much. They use words like ‘magical and sweet' very often."

Magical, sweet, daydreamy – Cake on Cake just naturally inspires such terms in the listener. It's a hopeful sound in a world that often seems irrevocably lost. Such music is a rare gift, one that fans and newcomers alike should make a point to experience when Sundin's band tours this month. "You make my heart sing/Yes, yes and yes," one of Sundin's lyrics goes on the new record. It's how many fans might wish to respond after sampling a taste of this smooth, richly layered Cake on Cake… | Kevin Renick

Photo by Jill Blomqvist 


Tour dates: 11/11: Earlham College | Richmond, IN; 11/15: Off Broadway | St. Louis, MO; 11/16: Hi-Tone | Memphis, TN | 11/17: The Basement | Nashville, TN; 11/18: The Earl | Atlanta, GA; 11/19: The Art Garage | Columbia, SC; 11/20: Tasty World | Athens, GA; 11/21: The Wetlands | Chapel Hill, NC; 11/22: The Bread Bin | Philadelphia, PA; 11/24: Pete's Candy Store | Brooklyn, NY; 11/25: Middle East | Cambridge, MA; 11/26: The Flywheel | East Hampton, MA; 11/27: AS220 | Providence, RI; 11/28: Sarah Lawrence College | Bronxville, NY; 11/29: Wesleyan College | Middletown, CT; 11/30: Bard College | Red Hook, NY; 12/1: Kenyon College – Horn Gallery | Gambier, OH; 12/2: The Firehouse | N. Manchester, IN; 12/3: The Empty Bottle | Chicago, IL

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