Doctors & Dealers | Confessions of a Drunken Mind (Bluesong)

cd_doctors-dealers.jpgSparrow has made this an utterly charming and sweetly sincere recording that likely could never have been made in the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The so-called DIY aesthetic means something different in Sweden than it does here. A domestic record of that ilk usually means a lo-fi affair, probably featuring a singer, minimal guitar and maybe a couple of other instruments — without much fussing over production and arrangements. The idea is to capture something spontaneously, quickly, for an artist with single-minded intent. A Swedish DIY-er, however, is likely to produce something lush, immaculately arranged and featuring diverse instrumentation — "lo-fi" for said Swede meaning perhaps a "low financial burden" on the artist rather than anything to do with recording quality.

I thought about this while listening to the debut by Doctors & Dealers, the latest in a series of one-woman Swedish bands opting for a cryptic moniker rather than their own names (see Cake on Cake, Hello Saferide, Winter Took His Life, et al). Sparrow is the singer and songwriter of the 14 little gems on Confessions of a Drunken Mind, and gosh, that would have been an interesting enough name to blaze a musical trail with. But…okay, Doctors & Dealers it is.

Sparrow probably recorded this whole thing in her house, and it doesn’t sound like many other musicians were involved at all. Yet she’s made this an utterly charming and sweetly sincere recording that likely could never have been made in the United States. Utilizing Casio keyboards, a simple drum machine, the finger snapping of "Magnus K" and a batch of brisk, beguiling melodies, Sparrow absolutely makes the most of the simple ingredients here. Her voice is character-rich and nuanced, achieving something more than mere girlish prettiness.

Almost every song has something a bit unexpected, like the eccentric arrangements on "The Other Woman" and "Walk Away," or the multi-tracked vocals and bright keyboards that adorn "A Different Year." Sparrow’s nimble keyboard plinking makes even simple songs enjoyable, and she seems to become one with the keys on jaunty little numbers like "Summertime Love" — a memorable tune that pays tribute to memories of a passionate summertime affair with a surprisingly melancholy undercurrent (a Nordic trait, that). "My Mother Was a Dancer" doles out poignancy and humor in equal measure, as Sparrow sizes herself up amidst the achievements of family members and others with disarming humility: "My sister is a model, a very stunning model/ She is the face of the year/ While she’s the new Twiggy, I’m the new Miss Piggy/ A catwalk I’ll never come near."

There are numerous lyrical passages like that on the record, where you marvel over how an artist can be both self-revealing and offhanded in her expressions, all while seeming absolutely gleeful about the specific act of laying down music tracks in her comfy domicile. "Steve McQueen" oughta put a smile on the face of every listener ("Everything’s so easy when you see it on the screen/ And wouldn’t it be easy if you looked like Steve McQueen?"), tickling the eardrums with a childlike melody. And the title track, quite honestly, is one of the greatest, most self-aware songs about drinking ever written — sure to show up on the future mix CDs of anyone who hears it. "Oh I dropped my clothes when dancing on a table/ Please help me home ’cause I’m just not able," sings Sparrow, before going on to enumerate the difficulty of refraining from over-imbibing when the temptations are so strong (and the self-control so weak). Truly, it’s a great song, with the aforementioned finger-snapping and melodic piano helping to make it so.

Both delicacy and strength abound on Confessions — along with sharp musical instincts. This album may seem like a throwaway when compared to some of the bolder offerings from Scandinavia in recent years. But its simplicity works numerous small wonders, and this Sparrow girl has some serious moxie. I already look forward to her next one. B+ | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Cake on Cake, Kimya Dawson, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

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