"Sonic-Reducer: Who is Pablo and all the other people you're singing about? Are these real people?
Lars: That's our secret. One of several reasons for that is that we want to let people build their own worlds according to Pablo."
WHAT THEY ARE
Unapologetically cloying. I mean; it's Billie the Vision and the Dancers, the sweetest and most engrossing narrative pop music I've ever blundered upon. Over five albums (so far) we are wound round with their wryly giddy worldview, are gossiped into the conversational landscape of "Pablo Diablo" - a creature who is more or less an alter ego of lead singer/songwriter Lars.
It's bruised-joy and it's a shrewd sentimentality. It's the epitome of that inexplicable trend in Scandinavian pop music of carrying off even the most twee aesthetic.
WHAT THIS IS
Another one of my obsessive gushes. I should stop here if you don't care for critical overreading.
Does "twee" not imply "tasteless"? No matter: the verve in the lyrics counterbalances, you often simply won't believe what you're hearing, and it's there that they'll strike.
It's the first music in years that I unselfconsciously proselytize and obsess over. No hipsterism here: this is the kind of thing you want everyone to listen to once you're hooked. (An effort helped by the fact that they put up all of their albums for free download.) And, after reading the above, you've certainly already decided if you're going to click that.
I won't pretend that the convoluted tangle of names and anecdotes and passion plays are blatantly all of one narrative - most of the time the lyrics leave the speaker's identity vague, in fact - or that there's massive intentional symbolism or blah. Could be I'm just leaning into it, painting my agenda onto things barely implied in the work. But such is all the proper literary crit I ever read, so: onwards!
--- SOUNDBITE: A Swedish Johnathan Richmond fronts Belle and Sebastian. On GHB.
- Lars Lindquist - singer, tambourine, songwriting
- Gustav Kronkvist - electric guitar, occasional songcred
- Jon Lindquist - Drums
- Silvio "Mono" Arismendi - bongos, cabasa, maracas, own face
- Fia Janninge - Violin, backing vox, occasional lead vox
- Frida Brattgard - Trumpet & accordion
- Maria Carlsson - bass
- On the first four albums, John Dunso was the acoustic guitarist, "ghost" vocals & second songwriter.
--- Subtle harmonies, blatant melodies. What else?
--- Alternately carnival and maudlin, picaresque ("Swedish Sin") and roman á clef (also "Swedish Sin").
--- Even at barest, arrangements bursting with bongo/cabasa/maraca/banjo/violin. Drums are barely there.
--- Where handclaps are, I am not; handclaps are implied where they are not.
--- Song getting all down? Wait for the horns to come and give the vocal line a hug.
--- On sustained, album-through listening, I find that they've really a very uniform sound - almost a handful of "types" redone, over and over.
- accordion surf
- the brassy joy one
- the dual-guitar one
- the irrepressible surf one
Could call it "continuity" if you were a cheeky critic git.
--- The other vox are rarely strongly present (see "Stuttering Duckling" for mixed results), but John Dunso is almost constantly ghosting the lead, just on the edge of hearing. The electric guitar, too, is rarely foregrounded, but is always an addictive guest (see the bridges in "A Beautiful Night In Oslo").
--- No matter how twisted or broken-down the vocals get, the strings are always moral.
"STORY" (Well, you try, eh?)
I can't give you a timeline or synopsis; the (quasi-fictional?) group is drawn in-passing, in an impressionistic way: these aren't concept albums. So I suppose by "story" I just mean cumulative lyrics. Just as well they're superlatively detailed, idiosyncratic, full of delightful non-Anglophone expressions and genuine intelligence (though undeniably syrupy, too.)
"Are you as perverted as we all guess you are?"
I've seen you around, I can tell that you a're just like me.
You'd rather watch reruns than deal with a bad spin-off called life.
I’ll put the kettle on,
Let’s not speak, talk ruins every conversation.
I’ve downloaded Dexter, come, there is room next to me.
I'll see you in hell cos we're both going to hell...
[To his Christian sister]
"Do you remember when my mum asked for suggestions for the coffeehouse?
You said "Coffeehouse Cunt", you said "Coffeehouse Cunt". I can't believe you said that."
Most of all they're deceptive; you won't see the sexual and/or deviant lines coming, such is the smiling energy they're delivered in.
"Can I tell them about the world war we've been through?
The world was the Hitler and we were the Jews."
Which, as any Eng-lit-fule know, is the same device Sylvia Plath used in "Daddy", ffs!
Beyond the helterskelter joyride of the first impression, there's balance and hurt to it all; Pablo details more and less obliquely about his past traumas, his general instability and the route he took to now. A friend dismissed them as "happy-clappy" and "sickly", but I can't get behind that; there's such a terrible amount about dominance, by one's exes and one's memories (ex-events, ex-self) and also of dependence and redemption, that I can only see it as richer than whatever "twee-pop" label anyone wishes to plug on it. It's not much of a stretch to call "Ask For More" melancholy!
One of the slickest moves is where the lead vocals switch character midsong, as in "Summercat" and "I Let Someone Else In". Gives the two perspectives of a relationship, usually Pablo's & Lilly's. Nowhere done better than in "No One Knows You", where the pair waking up on successive mornings are so close, so integrated that it seems perfectly natural for them to have the same voice (Lars').
- "Billie" - What else? The band's vision! (gruppe-geist, unifying ethic.) Billie's statement of intent is woven through all the music in one way or other; it's bruised hope. Political only in the sense that indifference is a fucking crime.
- "Pablo Diablo" - a protagonist. A Swedish transvestite, hell-raising and leery and hurt. Unless clued in otherwise, I tend to assume that the voice of the song is Pablo.
- "Lilly" - Pablo's love, on and off and mutually obsessive and off. [A3 *A11* B7, B9 *D1*] Sometimes sung in lead by Fia Janninge, other times simply by Lars.
- "Lars Lindquist" - the actual lead singer and songwriter for the band, but who is explicitly focalised in a couple of songs. Sweeter and more sentimental than Pablo(?)
- "Jessica" [B1, B7]
- "Marcus" - counterpart to Jessica; Lily's rebound/ [B6]
- "Susan" - Lars' Christian sister, barbed at [A2, A10, B1]
- "Daniel" - [B9]
- [Pablo's brother] - [B11]
- "Jimmy & Joanne" - divorcing parents; represent ordinary negatives A2
- "Freddy" A3
- "Emma" A3
- "Jenny" A6
- "Janet & Jane" A9 - dreamt of when there's time to
- "Johnny" A10 - has never looked alright
- "Mono" - The Man From Argentina, [B3, C4]. Nickname of Silvio, their percussionist.
- "Becky, Mia, Rose, Sebastian, John, Gwenno, Lisa, Mono, Fia, Bobby and Andy" - All isted in "A Beautiful Night In Oslo": The Pipettes except Joe Lean, and Billie the Vision except Lars and Gustav.
- "Casino stocks": instantiation of evil and hypocrisy
- Sex in cars: instantiation of a consuming love
- "Swear words": The Fall
- "Leftcheek kiss": stable love, friending
- Christianity: affected, convenience, reptilian love. Un-Billie.
- "Petey got hurt": Consequences of mistakes
- "Live At Budokan": The Grail? Comfort via music, via others.
- "Tonight": The most common lyric of all; it's in every other song and many of the refrains. As if Pablo always fixates on the great idea he's had for later, or on examining what's happening now.