Swedish collective Nanook of the North takes the title character from Robert
Flaherty's 1922 nonfiction film of the same name, magically transporting
him from Canada's Hudson Bay region to the Stockholm suburb of Taby.
It is there the band members meet the Eskimo boy and convince him to
record his glittering story songs in their home studio (or so the tale
on this wonderful album). There's further fantasy in the vellum-layered
snapshots which make up the album's art, souvenirs of a make-believe
traveler. In one, an imposing, curved building stands in a snowy lot;
a silver Airstream nearly tilts out of the camera's frame in another.
Alongside such modern totems some themes emerge on Nanook's cassette,
including fragility and a wish for peaceable nations.
The Taby Tapes, anthemic in some places and still in others, is an alluring conceit. Nanook of the North, the band who dreamt this up, assemble what looks to be members of Pineforest Crunch (Mattias Olsson, Olle Soderstrom and Mats), a table of found instruments (Mellotron, Optigan, Stylophone, Chilton Talentmaker, Emenee Tiger Guitar) and articulate handlers like Pea Hix (Optiganally Yours) and JFRE "robot" Coad (Aspects of Physics / Physics / Lesser). Instead of one feathery songstress, Nanook hosts an array of Sweden's loveliest voices, including Akaba and Karin Engstrand.
The Taby Tapes provides ample reason to become acquainted with contemporary Swedish pop, a varied company that in part includes refined cover men (Hederos & Hellberg), fluid electronics (Moonbabies) and intimate night music (Club 8). A modern abstraction with influences both familiar and apart, The Taby Tapes includes Múm's aurora-like fusion of voice and machine and the intellection of Belle & Sebastian.
Nanook of the North have drawn together a fanciful notion where indie-pop affects the soft heart of a stage musical. Charming girl-boy duets alight throughout, the smilingly warm kind best exchanged over balconies at night or during a ride on a carousel. Lacking such tangible set-pieces, the vocalists defer instead to Nanook and his contemplative, soaring idyll (which encircles everyone in a hope for a better future, really).
"Reaching the Shores of Arlanda," an overture of flute, hushed whale songs and synthetic chittering, begins the journey or, rather, the recollection. "Karin Boye's Grave" envisions a collaboration with the potent thinker/writer, probably Sweden's greatest woman poet: "We would have fallen in love with you and I/ Really would love to hear you sing/ Bring on the vibes and I'll bring the ring/ Come back to life and we'll show you everything." Boye's evocative verse inspires throughout, overreaching the winsome paean. Her otherworldly prose holds the importance of beauty, small things and dream vision. Regiment-like drumming becomes gentler, with oboe, exultant duets and electronica like shooting stars.
The appealing "Israel and Palestine A Solution" is about the amplified treachery of the Middle East, but just as much about the worldly cities that inevitably swallow up the smaller towns, in this case Stockholm's Taby. Combining grand chamber strings and a harmonica, the apology suggests a numinous Prefab Sprout pairing: "Taby, I'm so sorry/ I didn't speak for you/ I looked the other way/ Nanook, don't you worry/ This is holy ground/ I can prove my case."
Invented romance and the accompanying duets are, of course, indie-pop currency, and The Taby Tapes finds such boy-girl interplay bearing lustre throughout. An exception is "Hey Fragile," a clobbering song about a guy who sees past himself only long enough to deride a girl who likes him: "So I keep kicking, pushing you around/ That is the only thing I do all right." Slide guitar and the accentuated plip-plop of a faucet are inventive shadings before the sailing albeit punitive chorus. Somewhat country, but then again really not.
An ingenious outing, The Taby Tapes wraps the heart in
cloud-like arrangements, playful instrumentation and utterly romantic vocals.