Burn away the cartoonish lyrics of much of the British and American ’60s psychedelic-rock canon and what remains?
Because nimble guitar phrasing, chugging rhythm sections and elastic intersections of melody and noise are what make the best poppy head music — which is why it’s irrelevant that Gustav Ejstes is a young, contemporary musician reviving this type of woolly rock. Or that he only speaks Swedish.
Ejstes’ group Dungen visits the Grey Eagle Sept. 19 on the late show of the bill. This is their first American tour, providing some release to the few fans who pursued their album Ta det Lugnt (Kemado), or “grab the calm” — a version of the phrase “take it easy” — when it was released stateside last month. Ejstes forged his own path in the genre through his experience in the countryside of his native land.
At first glance, Ejstes’ upbringing creates images of a Mozart-like child prodigy, learning piano as a small child, flipping his wild hair while poring over different styles and disciplines with his father, a music teacher. Ejstes was raised in the small village Lanna in Vastergotland, Sweden, a community not unlike Asheville in spirit, in a spacious home built in the 1600s. The influence of his dad, a fiddler and violinist, inclined him toward his current loves, Swedish folk music and the strains of bombastic rock ‘n’ roll, which he’s diagrammed out as a linguist might dissect phrases in a story. The ties between production values and equipment led Ejstes to explore sampling and hip-hop, combining his voracious appetite for records with the fetishization of vinyl.
In enviable fairy-tale mode, he moved out to his mother’s farm nestled in the forested area known as Smaland, delved deeper into folk and created his own sounds in the basement. His immersion in the woodsy style of Swedish traditional music continues today: Ejstes is currently apprenticing with Jonny Soling, a prestigious figure in Swedish fiddle music, and he recently played an alternate live set of songs on acoustic guitar and violin, accompanied by his violinist girlfriend.
Ejstes decided to apply these principles to Dungen, and to do it all himself. On Ta det Lugnt, he played all the instruments, wrote all the material and produced. The live ensemble for this tour will feature a full band, including the tremendous guitar of Reine Fiske. Ejstes also plays flute and violin.
Where so many others have tried and failed, the subtle synthesis of Dungen’s percolating rock seems uncanny. Critics and fans invoking the fuzzed-out shimmer of the Pretty Things, the pyrotechnics of guitar god Hendrix or Keith Moon’s maniacal drum rattle usually bring to mind flower people and a time now gone.
Dropping big names like the aforementioned typically also entails grossly careless exaggeration.
But Ejstes seems to find the pocket where the music mingles with the air. Guitars vibrate with multi-hued intensity, ringing like chimes being struck in a headwind. Trips to more pastoral places, where Dungen stretches out, float on featherbeds of bass and thumped drums. Songs are sung in Swedish, but the spirit is beyond words.
Those lyrics — about love and girls and the higher plane and all — have really been heard before, many times. So who needs to know them?
[Freelance music reporter Chris Toenes is based in Chapel Hill. He previously wrote the Xpress cover story on the EtherMusic Festival.]
Dungen plays the Grey Eagle (185 Clingman Ave.) on Monday, Sept. 19. All ages welcome. 11 p.m. $12. 232-5800.