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Albums Of The Week: Les Big Byrd | Diamonds, Rhinestones & Hard Rain

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Quite where the title of Les Big Byrd’s fourth studio album came from remains mysterious even to the band’s frontman, Jocke Åhlund. You might speculate, though, that it’s a neat encapsulation of a record that is unafraid to deal in contradictions, that finds room both for glittering pop and for stormy atmosphere, and that doesn’t just showcase the thrillingly ambitious psych-rock that we’ve come to expect from the group; it pushes it forward, into new and more daring territory.

After their third album, Eternal Light Brigade, took four years to follow on from 2018’s mission statement Iran Iraq IKEA, Åhlund was determined that this time, the Stockholm rockers would hit the ground running, swiftly returning to the studio for another album that maintains the momentum and energy of Eternal Light Brigade whilst finding room to wander down sonic avenues all its own. “I wanted to stay inside that bubble of creativity,” explains Åhlund, a legendary figure who’s also played in Caesars, Smile and Teddybears and has collaborated with everybody from Chrissie Hynde and Giorgio Moroder to Sonic Boom and Anton Newcombe. “I wanted to maintain a mood from start to finish.” Key to that was a new-found sense of harmony in the band, one that was birthed during the sessions for Eternal Light Brigade.

Whereas the gestation process of some of the early releases from the band often saw creative tension stifle their rate of return, both within the group and between band and producer, their last album saw them decamp to Visby on the Baltic island of Gotland, putting clear blue water between themselves and the distractions of home, and allowing them to enjoy each other’s company in a pressure-free environment. “We’re spending less time bickering and fussing about shit!” Åhlund confirms happily. “It’s been more of a case of us all rowing the boat in the same direction, rather than pulling away from each other.”

New keyboardist Christian Olsson, he says, has been a boon for intra-band relations, especially as he had huge shoes to fill after the departure of his predecessor, Åhlund’s fellow Stockholm rock stalwart Martin ‘Konie’ Ehrencrona. “Finding somebody new wasn’t just about finding a great musician,” he says. “It’s about finding somebody with the right personality, somebody who you can stay in a crummy hotel room with or ride around with in a van, and have a great time with. This lineup feels really good.”

They headed back to Visby’s Sandkvie Studio to cut tracks for Diamonds, Rhinestones and Hard Rain, with Åhlund and fellow founder member Frans Johansson joined by Olsson and drummer Nino Keller. With Åhlund bringing in the basis for the songs and the rest of the band helping to shape and flesh them out, musical trends began to appear, ones that would come to define the most varied record of the group’s career. Those in thrall to the spacier and more expansive side of the band’s output to date will find that itch scratched by epic psych slow-burners like 10-minute opener Mareld and the monumental, Spiritualized-esque instrumental Lycka Till På Färden.

But there is space, as well, for the other side of Les Big Byrd, the one driven by hooks and melody, alive in songs like the title track and Curved Light, which take the sixties psych-rock tradition and tighten the screws on it, making it sharper, leaner, catcher. Underpinning everything, meanwhile, is a thick sense of atmosphere, a beguiling, evocative mood that suggests that Åhlund has been successful in his quest to keep up a certain feeling throughout the record.

Photo by Miki Anagrius.

“The cliché that to make great art, you have to have chaos and pain might be true to an extent, I mean sure, if you haven’t lived through some shit you might not have as much material to draw from when writing. But for me at least, being right in the middle of a stormy argument about hasch or who might be a backstabbing cunt when you’re trying to record an album, is not going to be a good creative environment. We went back to Sandkvie, where it’s sort of desolate in the fall and winter; when the tourist season’s over, it’s kind of empty and really beautiful. Everybody got along, and the record came together quickly.”

Diamonds, Rhinestones and Hard Rain features lyrics and song titles in both Swedish and English, but the language most crucial to it is its musical one, created by Åhlund and Johansson when they formed the band in 2011 and nurtured lovingly since, especially since the former took back control of the production side of things on Eternal Light Brigade. Closer The Night Bus is an especially striking demonstration of just how far Les Big Byrd have come over the course of the past decade or so; an electrifying twelve-minute odyssey that buzzes with nocturnal energy, bringing in swells of brass, twinkling pianos and sparkling synths. It is the sound of this most exhilaratingly adventurous of bands continuing to obliterate their boundaries.

“Of course everything that influences us pours into a kind of pool to draw inspiration from,” Åhlund explains. “But hopefully, what comes out of it is something that’s unique to us. So many bands around seem hung up on staying in one lane — like just being psychedelic or whatever that’s just formulaic, and not that’s not at all interesting to me. We are trying to create something personal that means something to us. And I hope we’ve achieved it.”