The glut of Swedish bands a few years ago offered only a nibble of what the Sounds had to offer. Their sophomore effort, Dying to Say This to You, shows the kind of growth that any band with only one record should be required to exhibit after garnering features in nearly every major music publication. In the four years since that recording, they have continued to bubble over with '80s pop sensibility, and new tracks have featured piano balladry, straight-up rock and new wave, without drowning in identity issues.
Maja Ivarsson's voice may be the signature of this five-piece -- it's definitely mixed to the fore -- but the metronomic rhythms and simple instrumentation pack a punch, too. Heavy synth tracks such as "Don't Want to Hurt You" and the hot-to-trot "Tony the Beat" are dance-party accelerants, while some of the more saccharine moments ("24 Hours") would suit those ubiquitous tweeny Nickelodeon spots. From the opening, "Song with a Mission," the Sounds' power-poppin' chords and attitude-laden lyrics demand attention, as fervent as the album title and fueled by a reckless, slightly more evolved enthusiasm.
As for the Sounds' partners on the bill, when your band name is an adolescent pecker joke and your lead singer likes to cavort around in her skivvies in national music magazines, certain expectations are created. At Morningwood gigs, you know that most of the guys pitching tents while pressed to the front of the stage hoping to be chosen to partially disrobe on stage during "Take Off Your Clothes" are also imagining vocalist Chantal Claret dragging some lucky lad or other backstage after the show.
And therein lies the, um, rub. What makes the sound of this New York garage band enticing, despite its loopy lyrics, spelling-bee refrains and loud guitars, is how it tantalizes the senses, creating a false sense of urgency without really being dangerous. Like Claret, the band's impeccably produced, self-titled debut CD is a lascivious tease, a guilty pleasure that will surely be crammed into countless iPods at the beach this summer. To mention the myriad influences and styles injected into Morningwood's music would run this story onto the next page, but suffice to say that it ranges from old-school glam to surf to punk -- wrapped up in a modern power- and synth-pop package with ascending guitar chords and descending bass lines intersecting as killer hooks. (The architect is British producer Gil Norton, who has tweaked the knobs for everyone from the Pixies to the Foo Fighters.)
What gives us hope that Claret and company are not just some sloppy one-night stand is when the vivacious vixen changes gears from her trademark top-of-the-lungs scream. In "Jetsetter" she alternates between a sweet, syrupy vocal affectation not unlike Metric's Emily Haines and the banshee wail of a brazen, hell-raising hottie. In the process, Claret breaks out of cheerleader mode and drops in clever expressions such as being "in her cups" (dudes, we're not talking bra size here -- or are we?) as she declares how boring the rock-star life can be.
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The CD's final track, "Ride the Lights," finds the band slowing down to a virtual crawl. With a steady, syncopated beat behind her, Claret uses a dreamy, note-bending vocal style, giving the distinct impression that, unlike some of her chart-topping peers, she is selling more than a temporary fashion trend. "Tell me stories of myself," she sings, "that I don't remember -- I was too drunk or too young, of that I can be sure." There's nothing like spewing out lines that your audience can relate to.