[Captured Tracks, 2012]
Jeff Pearson, July 29, 2012
Listen: “ABC City”
As the capital city of Sweden, Stockholm is known as the picturesque center of Nordic culture, with beautiful architecture, clean environment and abundance of nightlife. It serves as a tourist haven with vast array of museums, art galleries and theatres, not to mention the thousands of restaurants visitors have to choose from within the city. Despite being the most populous city in the country, Stockholm has preserved much of its natural beauty, with over thirty percent of its area being dedicated to parks and green space. Basically, all accounts indicate that Stockholm is a beautiful place. All accounts, that is, aside from that of the young post-punk upstarts in the band Holograms. They paint a much bleaker picture of Stockholm, an honest, gritty portrayal of the city they inhabit—Arthur Frommer has never seen Sweden like they have. Their blend of synthesizer-doused punk rock embodies that of a soot-covered, blue collar underbelly, its appendages spending what little money they have to put food in their stomachs and a roof over their heads, while Stockholm thrives on; with a delicate balance between aggression and glee, Holograms have encapsulated the heartbeat of Sweden, the grime beneath the shine.
Not much is known about Holograms at this point. They’re a four-piece with three of the members making ends meet under the same factory roof, and judging from the music videos they have thus far released, they enjoy looking detached as they drink beer on Stockholm’s rooftops and dimly lit apartments. A quick look at the band’s Facebook page leaves the reader with the story of a band truly struggling to balance their passion for making music together and the financial travails that their everyday lives leave them with. Holograms are currently at a turning point; having recently signed a record contract with Captured Tracks, they stand at the threshold of living somewhat comfortably, but with poverty still very much a part of their lives. They’re booking gigs worldwide, but have trouble affording to get to them. Back in May the band wrote, “Hey guys we’re really sorry but we can’t play the show in London today, we fucked up and can’t afford the ferry over,” and a mere five days later they were seeking shelter in Paris for a couple of days, hoping a French follower of their page would extend a helping hand. The balancing-act they are currently in servitude of bleeds into the music they make; there is a glossy sheen representative of the joy playing music brings them atop the raw mechanics of their everyday lives.
As soon as Andreas Lagerström’s punchy bassline rolls from the depths of the opening track “Monolith” on Holograms’ self-titled debut, the listener is fully immersed in the band’s fuzzed out, factory-floor existence. Lagerström bellows truncated glimpses into that world; with a raw, aggressive tone, he opens the album by singing, “Standing in line / Skyline / See you fall / Concrete floors.” It plays like short examinations through heavy-lidded eyes, with only tiny pieces of the surroundings being recounted at a time. Anton Strandberg’s drums sound like a battering ram pounding at the door, starting off sounding far off, nonthreatening, but then exploding into the room as soon as the song takes off. As the band raucously pours out their fierce energy all over the opening track, the balance of the free-spirited love for playing music together and that of a controlled, accomplished group is plainly evident; there is an identity tug-of-war all over Holograms. Whether it is the ramshackle, thrift-store keyboard played by Filip Spetze over the top of the actually very punchy “Chasing My Mind” or the boyish shout-along chorus over the top of the battery of Anton Spetze’s guitars on “Orpheo,” Holograms toe the line between one-too-many beers and consummate professionalism during the course of the record.
At less than forty minutes, Holograms feels like a quickly-shifting reel of grainy, jittery footage of the band’s hard-won position as recording artists trying to find their footing, both stylistically and financially. Each song is a brief, frenetic snapshot into their world, before the perspective dissolves to the next. On “ABC City,” the keyboards chirp menacingly atop a powerful, driving foundation. The song has the quality of a punk classic, with the gravelly instrumentation and vigor, polished and gleaning with pop sensibilities. In fact, this dynamic is prevalent all over the record, and what makes Holograms such an exciting band. As Lagerström somewhat gleefully shouts, “I’m astray / I can’t tell which way,” on “Astray,” there is an obvious ear for melody disguised with a raw aggression. Or perhaps it is the other way around. For example, “Stress” and “A Tower” explode from the very start; each track is just over two minutes, trading none of the bombast and spirit of punk music for glint along the way. However, it is just this sheer abandon on tracks like those that fill in for loss of potential accessibility—it’s their obvious, “we’re playing not only so we can eat, but because we love to” attitude that is completely infectious about this record.
It will be interesting to see where Holograms goes from here. Can its members lose the day jobs and travel the world playing punk rock? Will the comfort that being taken care of by a record label come to affect the grit that they have placed under a microscope here on their self-titled debut? Time will tell, but for now what matters is that these four blue-collar Swedes have made a fantastic punk record. All the elements are there for them to make more, for many years to come. Let’s just hope that they can afford a ferry and a hotel room next time.