Rough Trade Records is excited to release East Of Eden, the new album by Taken By Trees. The album is the result of an extraordinarily adventurous recording process in Pakistan with local musicians. The album also includes the short film "Taweel Safari - The Longest Journey" that was shot in Pakistan while recording. Production skills were handled in Sweden by Dan Lissvik (partner in the Swedish duo 'Studio") with guest vocals from Noah Lennox of Animal Collective on "Anna".
Review by Margaret Reges
East of Eden's back-story is the stuff of movies. Following the release of Taken by Trees' 2007 debut, Open Field, Victoria Bergsman and her trusty recording engineer, Andreas Soderstrom, traveled to Pakistan to record TBT's second album. They had to battle for a travel visa; the Swedish government warned them that travel to Pakistan was dangerous. Which it was — Bergsman was literally carried off by some locals shortly after the duo arrived in Pakistan; the fact that she was an unmarried woman evidently made her public property. Soderstrom saved her by posing as her husband, and thus disguised, Soderstrom and Bergsman went on to team up with an influential musician named Malik to record this album. It's probably the last thing indie pop fans would expect from Bergsman, who's best known for her sugary work with the Concretes and Peter Bjorn and John, and, oddly enough, East of Eden is probably stronger simply because it's such a wild tangent. Like Open Field, East of Eden is a richly atmospheric album — the main difference is in temperature. Compared to TBT's chilly first album, East of Eden provides a warm, vibrant listen; lush with rounded, organic Pakistani-influenced sounds, this is perhaps the happiest-sounding sustained work Bergsman has produced since her departure from the Concretes. It also sounds a whole lot like Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, an influence that Bergsman is not at all shy about. Noah Lennox makes an appearance on one of the album's standout tracks, the pleasantly loopy "Anna," and there's even a minimalist, half-grinning cover of Animal Collective's "My Girls" (appearing here as "My Boys"). East of Eden shouldn't be chalked up as a kind of mini-Merriweather, though. Even though she's borrowed a lot here — from Animal Collective, from Pakistani music — Bergsman manages to give it all a tender, sad-yet-sprightly touch that's completely her own.
Feels so unnatural-- Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, too. The late qawwali legend has earned the admiration of singers as different as Jeff Buckley, Eddie Vedder, and Devendra Banhart. On 1989's The Last Temptation of Christ soundtrack, he also worked with Peter Gabriel, who ended up releasing six of Khan's albums on his own Real World label. With so much indie culture these past few years stuck in the 1980s, Gabe fave raves Vampire Weekend are simply the most collegiate of recent bands returning to Toto's "Africa" for inspiration. Khan's native Pakistan has been comparatively overlooked.
Victoria Bergsman's recorded output to date is almost quintessentially Swedish. With the Concretes, she introduced Diana Ross shimmy to Mazzy Star haze, staying tuneful enough to soundtrack TV commercials. Lending her shy detachment to Peter Bjorn and John's world-conquering "Young Folks", she participated in a moment likely to define Swedish pop for many casual listeners the way Ace of Base or ABBA used to serve as shorthand for the peace-loving nation's catchiest export. Bergsman's debut album as Taken by Trees, 2007's Open Field, uses the full expanse of PB&J-er Bjorn Yttling's production (plus a songwriting credit from Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell) to evoke a gorgeously austere northern landscape, the kind of place where you appreciate the sun all the more because it shines so sparingly.
So it's tempting to be skeptical of Bergsman's trip to Pakistan to record a follow-up-- all the more so given an accompanying National Geographic mini-documentary's whiff of cultural condescension. Thankfully, East of Eden suits Taken by Trees the way a shift from folk-pop to terrifying avant-classical suited oft-mentioned German antecedent Nico. Bergsman's plaintive purr can't match Khan's multi-octave ululations, and unlike the late Buckley, she doesn't try. Instead, she and accompanist Andreas Soderstrom-- working with local musicians who've played alongside the maestro-- embrace the ecstatic peacefulness of this Sufi musical tradition's rhythms and instrumentation. Production from Studio's Dan Lissvik gives the nine-song, half-hour set an ascetic grace, sort of like secular devotional music. How very Scandinavian.
In truth, Taken by Trees' debut already had a similar religious quality, albeit owing more to the introspective folk of Nick Drake; excellent remixes by the Tough Alliance and Air France showed how much those songs could gain by leaving Europe. On East of Eden, sinuous woodwind and rippling hand percussion help give plainspoken love songs like "Day by Day" or "Watch the Waves" an eternal resonance, which Bergsman's understated poise only deepens. Soderstrom's dusty classical guitar should please Studio devotees on haunting opener "To Lose Someone", while from out of the swaying call and response of "Greyest Love of All" rises a perfect prayer for our time of endless Web 2.0 connectivity and ever-shortening attention spans: "I hope you'll find some peace of mind."
Noah Lennox, aka Animal Collective's Panda Bear, is no stranger to prayerfulness, field recordings, or non-rock influences; that he and Bergsman would develop a mutual affinity is only fitting. After the fashion of Studio, TTA, Air France, and some of Gothenburg, Sweden's other musicians, who like to retitle and reimagine the songs they interpret, Taken by Trees transforms Merriweather Post Pavilion highlight "My Girls" into intimate, harmonium-humming "My Boys". It's a little paradoxical, recording an ode to simple domesticity in a region where religious fundamentalism led men to consider the unmarried Bergsman "everyone's property," but as with any great hymn, this spirited meditation on indie-style puritanism should have the power to move even non-believers. Lennox, in turn, adds his incantatory vocals to the nylon-stringed regret of "Anna", where having "way too much tonight" can mean alcohol, fighting, or both.
If you go straight long enough, somebody once said, you'll end up where you were. East of Eden, in that sense, isn't so far from Studio's West Coast: a masterful, hypnotic album that draws on a world of influences but is ultimately limited by none. So the most distracting misstep is "Wapas Karna", essentially a field recording fronted by a qawwali singer rather than Bergsman herself, while two other less immediate tracks are compelling mostly for their impulse toward cultural merger: the sparsely adorned, Swedish-language melancholy of "Tidens Gang", which melts into ambient chirps in under two minutes, or the closing drone of "Bekannelse", apparently a setting of a poem by (German) writer Herman Hesse that reflects some of Bergsman's liberal guilt. "If you know what you want to create and are determined, you can do it wherever you are," Bergsman recently told London's The Independent. "I'd rather live in sunny California." This must be the place.
— Marc Hogan, September 4, 2009