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GHLOW (Sweden) – Levitate (title track from album)

When I’m searching for new songs and artists to write about there are numerous factors in play but more often than not I’ll be influenced by events or circumstances that can be arcane.

A couple of things caught my attention with GHLOW. First off, the very first line of the press release reads “The Stockholm based electronic punk duo GHLOW returns…”

Now I admit I’m Old School but ‘electronic’ and ‘punk’ have never sat well together in a sentence for me; they’re even a little oxymoron-ish. I’ve been around long enough to remember when the electronic wizardry of the prog rock era was replaced practically overnight by punks who could barely play a chord between them. Goodnight Vienna as you might say.

Then there is the striking clash of the names and backgrounds of the two artists, Emille de Blanche, who at least sounds French and who looks like a young female Jean-Jacques Burnel, and Nikolay Evdokimov, who is Russian. An entente cordiale of an unexpected kind.

She is a highly educated and successful sculptor who views the city as a living organism and who makes the sort of stuff you’d expect to find in the Tate Gallery. As a sideline she’s a classically trained musician.

He is a tattooist, which I suppose you might consider an art form except that the ones I’ve seen on the girls in Oldham are more arse than art. I see he hasn’t covered himself head to toe in them, which seems to be de rigueur right now.

He started out in politically-infused rock outfits around the time the Soviet Union fell. I met a couple of members of Pussy Riot once, in Sweden as it happens, so I’ve an idea where he might be coming from. They were rather intense.

They are мел and fromage, or chalk and cheese to you, at least on paper, and the oddest combination we’ve had here since last year’s excellent A Catalogue of the Universe, a duo consisting of a 17-year old lad and a woman old enough to be his mother.

They met by chance in Stockholm, and “bonded over similar influences”, which sounds like the most bizarre part of the story. The key though is that they “shared an appetite for breaking the modern rock mould.”

Their debut album was called ‘Slash and Burn’, which you might argue is what they could have called themselves, and this is the title track from the follow-up, ‘Levitate’, one that is unlike, they say, its predecessor, devoid of external influences entirely, and on which they found room for experimentation.

Putting that aside, my concern is whether or not they are achieving their objective of ‘breaking the mould’. Let’s face it you’ve got to produce something pretty special to do that. A Marvin Gaye ‘What’s going on’ for example, a Roxy Music ‘Virginia Plain’, a Beatles’ ‘Sergeant Pepper’s’, a Simon & Garfunkel ‘Bridge over troubled water’ or a Queen ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

Or perhaps, yes perhaps, a Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’ or a Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever fallen in love’. Even, since I mentioned M. Burnel, a Stranglers’ ‘No more heroes’.

So how does ‘Levitate’ stack up in this mould-breaking punk peerage? Actually pretty well. There’s so much kinetic energy on show they must have plugged into the national grid and turned the Stockholm lights out.

The battle between guitar, bass, keys and percussion is as gladiatorial as Napoleon’s assault on Moscow, it is relentless and they even manage to pick a tune out off it which is rare in a punk song.

And the funny thing is that we’ve almost come around full circle. About two-thirds of the way through there’s even a short section where what sounds like a prog riff tries to shove its oar in.

Keith Emerson must be spinning in his grave.

Oh, and by the way, be sure to listen to the following track on the album, ‘Bring it down’. Poly Styrene lives!

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