We want in.
Welcome to the clandestine, spiritually nourishing cult of Amateur Hour. A 3 piece cloaked in mystery and static from Gothenburg, their music shimmers with an ethereal melancholy that seems ripped out of the underground. It’s easy to imagine Amateur Hour as Grouper covering Galaxie 500 under the shroud of darkness, warbling overtones phasing in and out, the night calling for the souls making the music, beckoning. Krökta Tankar Och Brända Vanor is the group’s highly anticipated (in select circles, into which you are now invited) third album and to celebrate its release our friends over at Appetite have re-pressed the long out of print first 2 albums, the eponymous debut (originally an early Förlag För Fri Musik cut) and Framtiden Tillhör Inte Oss. Amateur Hour take the happenstancial, improvisatory feel at the heart of much of the Gothenburg scene and apply it to pop music to produce deeply affecting, weeping music graced with a lo fi elegance.
These three records chart the groups’ journey, signposts in their collective work that offer portals into their hermetically sealed world. Forming in the middle of the last decade, the group set out a gameplan that implied the absolute absence of a gameplan. Interviews and information are sparse, but their interview on Dynamite Hemorrhage reveals a group of musicians happy to let their music making evolve with minimal half-drunk guidance, a group of friends locked in together and pursuing the first thought-best thought, first take-best take punk approach to slowcore beautifully sad and hugging music. The recordings are often fuzzy, dipped in tape hiss or at least a tape recorders’ natural distortion, shimmering Maurice Deebank guitars and a obfuscated vocal by Julia Bjernelind (who we just learned is the singer in Monorail faves Typical Girls, wow!) just hidden enough to be impossibly enticing.
Krökta Tankar Och Brända Vanor
But let’s begin at the now. Krökta Tankar Och Brända Vanor is the group’s third album and clocking in at a massive double album, it shows the group as a fully evolved trio who’ve perhaps taken to their craft with more focus than before, evoking massive tides of distortion and reverb that put us in mind of Flying Saucer Attack, Cocteau Twins, Slowdive listened to on a 6th generation cassette, the far out Yo La Tengo sides, Velvet Underground recorded deep, well, underground, Les Rallizes Denudes on Sarah Records, even the Reds Pinks and Purples-related group Vacant Gardens. This stuff, let’s face it, butters our toast, sprinkles the magic, throws the confetti: listening to the song Baby You’re All That I Want makes me feel like how come no one’s done this music quite like this before? It’s definitely out there, make no mistake, but out there is harshly beautiful. We’re talking thrashing guitars soaked and buried in reverb and fuzz into a trance state. The group’s professed influences might be all over the place: everything from industrial to 60s pop music, but the crushed mulch of their sound on their third album broadcasts out a consistent aesthetic. Dirt, shimmer, waterfalls of glowing harmony and guitar overtones overlapping and crisscrossing into the mind’s eye. Stanna Hos Mig feels like a cover of The First Cut Is The Deepest by someone so sad they can barely follow the changes. It’s emotional charged alright, smudged, blurred, almost flambéed in tears.
Krökta Tankar Och Brända Vanor, while an aesthetically consistent work, nonetheless showcases different sides to the trio. Drinkars Boning (for the fun of it I’m not google translating this one) is a pleasing interlude recalling The Smiths’ instrumentals that were just Johnny Marr before the track Buried Alive shows a angelic-sounding Bjernelind slowly being subsumed in distortion and elegiac, swelling guitar work. It doesn’t get more direct than the near-Jesus & The Mary Chain-esque Feel My Loneliness which, while drumless (like the majority of the record) still has plenty of movement in the guitars to pack an emoting heft. It gets really far out on the side-long …But If Teenage Is Forever You Will Look For Something Better, an abstract 15 minute, fazed and dazed journey laden with phaser before it bleeds out into a impossibly sad waltz time death march. Another highlight is the powerful Psykat Liv which with a primal drumbeat really drives home the Les Rallizes comparisons. It sounds like the microphone is trapped in the wall separating rehearsals by both Les Rallizes and JAMC. Which is basically heaven, distorted to all hell.
Framtiden Tillhör Inte Oss
So back in 2019, the Amateur Hour trio prepped for their magnum opus with Framtiden Tillhör Inte Oss which formulates many of the ideas they’ve blasted into outer space on Krökta Tankar Och Brända Vanor. It feels like the bandwith is crushed, like you’re looking through a crack in the wall at a band slowly crying tears into the saddest well in the world. I’m Yours opens the record, with Bjernelind dueting with either Dan Johansson or Hugo Randulv on a guitar playing chords and what sounds like an amp plugged into itself, spewing out its lifeforce in the form of controlled feedback. Some pieces here are perhaps some of the most formless in the group’s discography but they rub up against gems like Jenny’s Place with its hue of Mazzy Star and Cocteau Twins, Bjernelind’s vocal clearly heard vocal, seeming to lament a failed relationship, entoning “do me a favour and stay the same” she sounds vulnerable, exposed without the usual cloud of distortion and haze. It actually reminds me a little of the cult Japanese group Shizuka. Which is the highest of compliments if you ask me.
But listen to Jag Laser / Happy Days, a cut up experiment in warble and frankly off key vocals: you just have to admire the who gives a shit attitude, the sheer confidence and artistry of a group who’re doing what they do as if no one else is listening. In fact, on their second album Amateur Hour seem to be throwing out their brightest and simplest pop songs paired with their most abstract pieces, and you just gotta love that. Dream Of You has a sweet arpeggio on guitar in partnership with what almost sounds like a Roy Orbison-inflected song. There are parts on this record that sound fragile and low key beautiful and then with closer Bloder they bring full on Lou Reed Metal Machine Music bloody-mindedness, all screeching feedback like they’ve kicked the shit out of their guitars and then left them to die in the studio. Harsh, man.
The eponymous Amateur Hour is where the group began. In true contrary fashion, the album begins with Bye Bye, all classic gloomed-out guitar plucking with Bjernelind’s voice frayed at the edges, literally weeping out the speakers until Get Fucked (best song title this week?) has a rumbling improvisatory feel of abstraction, it’s almost incidental, like some music the group were fucking around with and stumbled on to this star-lit sound dominated by the deep rumble of the cassette recorded trying desperately not to turn itself off forever. This is the group often at their most belligerent, self-confessededly drunk a lot of the time, literally with a song called Drunkna (we can use our imagination) which perfectly encapsulates the sound of the room spinning, confusion, Chorus-effected guitars and Bontempi guitars asthmatically emanating some barely together chords.
The group most definitely set out their stall early. In 2016 they set out their aesthetic, the basic tenets of their universe, and even back then fumbled through this weirdly compulsive, addictive world of distortion, glowing melancholy, nocturnal sojourns into long dark soul-searching, playful contrariness and an artistry that while it revels in the enthusiasm of the amateur nonetheless constantly reveals an emotional purity that you just don’t get anywhere else.
What a truly special, weird cult. I want in.
Michael / Monorail