Home Read Now Hear This: Henrik Appel | Humanity

Now Hear This: Henrik Appel | Humanity

I'm getting caught up on the good albums that have come out lately. Like this one.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Two years ago, what Henrik Appel intended as a side project ended up becoming a full-scale reinvention. After years spent establishing himself as one of the key figures of Stockholm’s punk underground — cutting his teeth on bass with Martin Savage Gang and fronting his own outfit Lion’s Den — he released his first solo record, Burning Bodies, in 2018. A carefully constructed labour of love that came together over the course of five years, it was meant as both an exercise in catharsis — its nine emotionally volatile tracks looked heartbreak and relationship breakdown square in the eye — and as a challenge to his own boundaries, with strict rules self-imposed on the songwriting process (there were to be no more than three instruments on any one song, for example).

The results were remarkable; Burning Bodies was a searing work that showcased Appel’s talent in its rawest form, cutting to the core of what makes him tick as a musician. It immediately raised the prospect of a followup and, when attempts to regroup with Lion’s Den to work on a sophomore album ended in the band’s amicable split, Appel returned to the solo coalface to think about what he wanted to say next. “The last album was pieced together from all these ideas I had that didn’t fit in with Lion’s Den,” he explains. “But with this one, there was freedom to be myself. I could do whatever I wanted.” He lifted the restrictions he’d put in place for the making of Burning Bodies, giving himself space to spread his creative wings as an individual for the first time: “I didn’t want to strip it down or pursue one sound.”

Accordingly, Humanity plays like a paean not just to Appel’s wide range of sonic influences, but to the breadth of his ideas as an artist. This is a record on which every side of him finds a way to coexist with the others; the breezy pop punk of the title track sits comfortably next to achingly pretty acoustic slow-burners like Mrs. Spaceman, whilst the moody slacker rock of opener Brain gives way, as the album progresses, to the likes of the woozy, atmospheric I Need You and the quietly reflective I Want to Lie, the latter of which works as Humanity’s thematic and musical centrepiece.

Appel retains the influences that defined Burning Bodies — he continues to take his cues from the likes of The Velvet Underground and Brian Eno — but there’s also clear signs of his new-found love of jazz in the inventive introduction of brass instruments, as well as evidence that he’s beginning to find inspiration in the work of his contemporaries, too. “The Velvet Underground, Brian Eno, The Fall and Charles Mingus are probably at the centre of it,” Appel reflects. “But I really like stuff like ShitKid and Cherry Pickles. I love their approach; they’re not interested in perfection. What they want to do is chase a certain feeling. There’s a human touch to those albums that I really love, and I wanted mine to feel like that, too. You can keep doing take after take until you get it exactly right, but I wanted the songs to have a soul.”

Key to that was a quick turnaround time; Humanity was written over the course of more than a year, but like Burning Bodies, it was recorded in just four days at Studio Cobra, with Martin ‘Konie’ Ehrencrona again handling production duties. Many aspects of the album’s construction remained the same as last time out — including the contribution of Emma Lind, who again has co-written lyrics on several tracks — but the nature of Humanity is markedly different; as a musician and as a storyteller, it is the sound of one of Sweden’s leading underground lights embracing new possibilities. “Unlike when I wrote Burning Bodies, I’m in a healthy relationship now, so I’m thinking about other things; how it is to struggle day-to-day, and how to cope with different emotions. It’s more about a collective struggle, than an inner struggle.” In turning his gaze outward, Appel has produced a deeply empathetic record at a time when we need it most — and expanded his own horizons in the process.”