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Dungen's sound beyond words

Swedes' rock does the talking

Members of the Swedish band Dungen, from left: Reine Fiske, Mattias Gustavsson, Gustav Ejstes, and Johan Holmegard. Members of the Swedish band Dungen, from left: Reine Fiske, Mattias Gustavsson, Gustav Ejstes, and Johan Holmegard.
By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / October 26, 2008
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The albums are titled "Ta Det Lugnt" and "Stadsvandringar." The songs are named, among other things, "Gjort Bort Sig" and "Tyst Minut." But it would be a grievous mistake to allow something as silly as a language barrier - unless you speak Swedish, that is - to stop you from diving headlong into Dungen's domain. After all, isn't plunging into a world of strange, surreal bliss what psychedelia is all about?

Unlike Swedish neo-garage stylists such as the Hives, say, or fellow psychedelic rock travelers the Soundtrack of Our Lives, the members of Dungen write and sing entirely in Swedish. The sheer quality and breathtaking scope of their sound, however, has begun to translate across the globe, reinforcing the adage that some things - great art, for instance - are truly universal.

"It is amazing that [language] doesn't matter," says singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gustav Ejstes, the lone permanent member of Dungen, which will come to Great Scott Thursday with a touring version of the band. "Since we have been touring the US, I have met a lot of Americans who have liked it. But I have made the vocals like another instrument - I don't think of myself as a poet or a singer."

Nevertheless, Ejstes, 28, who in fact speaks impressively fluent English, says he's been surprised by Dungen's reception outside of its native Sweden - especially in the States, where, he says, "you have so much good music here. But because of the Internet, we have the opportunity to find music from all over the world. Now everything is possible."

Indeed, the sense that "everything is possible" is what you get when experiencing Dungen's freewheeling forays. It is music that seems to simultaneously glance back toward '60s psych and '70s prog- and art-rock, even as it seeks to move forward into expansive realms rarely heard amid the current indie-rock landscape. Songs shift in texture and tone, going from chilled out and jazzy to torrid and densely layered, and then back again.

"4," the outfit's new (and yes, fourth) album, which Ejstes recorded with a stable of collaborators, features something different altogether. The album marks the first time Ejstes (who on past albums played the lion's share of instruments) sticks to piano and voice exclusively, leaving the guitar arrangements entirely in Reine Fiske's quite capable hands.

"My grandma moved to an apartment in a village, and I got her piano, and that's the piano you hear on '4'," Ejstes says from Sweden. "I didn't have the intention of making a piano record, but to me the sound of the piano is timeless and natural. I have moved away from the guitar songs because for me, it becomes just heavy stuff when I play guitar."

Of all of Dungen's discs, the languid and meditative "4" might be the loveliest. Here, piano, flute, and strings dominate a clutch of cool instrumentals built on lushly supple grooves and a sense of rarified atmosphere. Occasionally, a roiling Jimi Hendrix Experience-esque guitar workout such as "Samtidigt 1" rockets into this majestic universe like a satellite on fire. Stylistically, "4" is just about the farthest thing one could imagine coming from a onetime hip-hop devotee who discovered Public Enemy via his older brother's radio.

"We lived in the countryside in southwest Sweden about four or five hours from Stockholm, and the first record I bought was Public Enemy," says Ejstes. "That was like my punk period of rebellion, and I really got into that as a teenager, with the clothes and the lifestyle. We tried to do our own hip-hop, of course, and we learned who they sampled."

Ejstes's attempts at recording and performing credible hip-hop was, by his own admission, something of a stretch. "I tried to make some hip-hop, and it wasn't sounding too good. But it was all part of me not being afraid to make music myself. So when I heard the samples, I wondered, 'How do they actually make that kind of groove or sound? Is that a flute?' Now I have to learn how to play the flute and do it, too."

Of his do-it-yourself, multitasking approach - in addition to piano and guitar, Ejstes plays the flute, fiddle, bass, keyboards, and produces all of Dungen's albums - Ejstes claims he had little choice in the matter. Most of the other musicians in his town aspired to grunge or were content to play in Metallica cover bands. If Ejstes was after something a little more original, he knew he'd have to do it himself.

"I never had any pop-star dream or anything, but at the same time I didn't know anything else that I thought was as fun as music," Ejstes says. "I did [Dungen] for the same reason I made hip-hop - for the love of music. But I knew that I couldn't ever break as a Swedish hip-hop artist."

DUNGEN

At Great Scott (1222 Commonwealth Ave., Allston, 617-566-9014, www.greatscott boston.com) Thursday with Headdress and Big Bear starting at 9 p.m. Tickets are $14.

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