Kent / Röd / November 06, 2009
“So hang them high, so hang them slowly”: such has become the advice of Kent, a band increasingly consumed by producer Jon Schumann’s electronic influence and a penchant for flipping the bird to jerks, bullies, and catty bitches. Transformed from the raw, soul-searching sincerity of Hagnesta Hill and Isola to defenders of the underdog in two albums, Kent’s musical trajectory can either be considered the greatest transformation of the decade or the worst; it’ll become obvious which side I fall on.
It’s almost impossible to talk about Röd without mentioning its predecessor, Tillbaka till samtiden, Kent’s 2007 showpiece that no longer foreshadowed a change in direction, but chiseled it in stone; Schumann took the underlying Swedish gloom and doom of albums like Du & jag döden and The hjärta & smärta EP and transformed them into tactile representations of death, the heart, and pain that have paved the way for Röd‘s abject nihilism. Where Joakim Berg’s vocals used to be lilting and nostalgic, they’re now bitter and acute, tearing into adolescent grief without talking down to its audience. Ostentatious though the production has always been, a sound that used to rely heavily on instantly aching guitar loops and bleeding bass lines that gave away both the plot and the joy of finding that not-so-happy-ending within the first verse has become ravaged by bitter synths and a maddeningly patient denouement. Amateurs could easily dismiss at least two minutes of every track without taking into account the pay off of Kent’s new virtues (hint: temperance is not one of them).
Where some of the tracks may come off as too formulaic – loops are still a thorny issue – others round out the machine-heavy production with violins (“Hjärta”), acoustic guitars (“Ensamheten”), and plinking pianos (“Svarta linjer”); Schumman has become the resident spelunker, transcending the band’s more organic, alternative foundation without altering the magic that made past work so inherently dramatic and moving. Drawing influence from 90’s industrial music, the record is almost mired in too much revenge and fury for its own good; if Tillbaken till samtiden bit back, Röd attacks from behind. No longer providing pathetic excuses for its cowering fear by positing anxiety as a kind of courage, “Töntarna” lashes out: no other song has Berg singing with such precision, such scorn, such accusation. Even Röd‘s love songs hide in songs translated as “Waltz for Satan (Your Friend the Pessimist)” and “There Are No Words,” an ironic admission of the difficulty in navigating eros within the confines of language: “There are no words for it in this damn language / I have no words for that we breathe, think, feel the same thing.”
However, as carefully as each song treads in its intricate tapestry of the morbid and self-loathing (“I failed myself / So see me as a warning”), the album still crouches in the shadow of Tillbaka till samtiden, an album a hair’s breadth more sophisticated and restrained, letting the synths accent pieces of music rather than frame or even form the base of entire songs. But though Röd seems content to tackle smaller chunks of easily consumed issues like high school social structures and loneliness instead of drug use and abandonment, both know where to inflict the most emotional damage. Subtlety has been thrown out to make room for a full choir and two fast-paced, demi-club tunes no one would dance to; it’s a sweeping album, full of epic build-ups and nuanced sounds hidden behind its blatant discontent.
Magnum opus though it may not be, it’s still a masterpiece, a record that will follow you long after the fading robots and tubular bells have ululated through the speakers. “Even one hundred thousand voices can be wrong”; these just happen to be right.