Taken by a notion
What Sacramentans can learn from a Swede who recorded an album in Pakistan
Without risk, there is no reward, or so it is said. And Taken by Trees, a.k.a. Victoria Bergsman of Sweden, took more than one risk on her latest LP, East of Eden.
On a romantic and stubborn notion, Bergsman—formerly of the Concretes and the pipes on Peter, Bjorn and John’s ubiquitous 2007 hit “Young Folks”—chose to record outside of the sterile confines of a studio. Due to her interest in Sufi music, she chose to record with Pakistani musicians in Pakistan, in spite of the red tape it required and the Swedish government’s admonition not to go, because they couldn’t guarantee her safety in the country, rife with violence and civil unrest.
But she went anyway, and once in Pakistan, along with guitarist/recording engineer Andreas Söderström, the soft-spoken Bergsman said that she was in a state of continuous culture shock.
In a short documentary filmed on her experience (included on Eden, as well as TBT’s and National Geographic’s Web sites), she confessed, “It was emotionally difficult to cope with the cultural differences … especially seeing how the situation was for women.”
Although Bergsman doesn’t mention it in the film, Söderström had to pretend to be her husband when they arrived—because locals literally tried to take her away, deeming her public “property” upon discovering she was single. She also notes the difficulty in earning respect as a professional musician, and as the leader of the sessions, from the local male musicians she’d enlisted to collaborate with.
Back story notwithstanding, the final album is a mysterious and transcendental 33-minute journey that audibly defies all Bergsman’s cultural and logistical obstacles. Including daily power outages.
Bergsman has a delicate and ethereal voice, like Hope Sandoval, and she took a chance by juxtaposing its wraithlike beauty against traditional Pakistani acoustic instruments, including tabla, flute and harmonium. This unexpected pairing succeeded, however, resulting in richly textured and gorgeous songs.
Some tracks sound like old field recordings, like “Wapas Karna,” and the ringing and evanescent sounds of Pakistani men and children are used as segues between tracks, cuing the listener into knowing, without doubt, that her musical experience originated in a different, exotic place. Two tracks are sung in Swedish as well; TBT pulled off the dreaded “F” word—fusion—without reason for alarm.
The most commercially palatable track, “Day by Day,” with its outstanding slinky beat, nonhipster hand claps and simple, unrequited-love lyrics, surprises with the song’s fluted chorus. It hearkens back to the vibe and uplifting spirit of Karl Blau’s “Through the Cooper’s Fence”—albeit a more polished version.
Bergsman, a fan of Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, covers “My Girls,” but her version—also the LP’s first single—called “My Boys,” is a precious reworking, but positively so. In turn, AC’s Noah Lennox provides lush, African-chantlike layered vocals for TBT’s wistful “Anna,” which is slated to be released as the next single on December 14.
And TBT recently faced another obstacle: not having money to tour, prompting Bergsman to ask for suggestions from fans on her Web site. A short European tour has so far been planned, but there’ll need to be substantial record sales to get the Swede near Sacramento.
Despite the challenges and risks involved, East of Eden is robust with rewards. The last track, the introspective “Bekännelse,” is a Hermann Hesse poem with droney, mystical instrumentation accompanying. The title means “confession,” and Bergsman too confesses on her journey to Eden. “I don’t think I was prepared enough [for Pakistan],” she admits. “It’s very emotional, and it was very in your face constantly.
“But I do not regret it that I went there, and what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen.” Neither will listeners.