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Knowing The Score

Listening to The Soundtrack of Our Lives

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Rolling Stone magazine, Spin, and a host of others have had a field day examining the new trend of Swedish rock. From what mysterious fount come these waves of feedback and noise? How did bands like The Hives, Sahara Hotnights, and Division of Laura Lee appear out of nowhere to invade our American rock consciousness?The answer, no doubt, lies in Union Carbide Productions, which, despite the name, is neither a monolithic chemical company nor an oil giant.

One of the most criminally overlooked bands of the last 15 years, UCP did what most overlooked bands do when they find themselves feeling worn down and under-appreciated, despite lauds from famous fans like Thurston Moore, Jello Biafra and Kurt Cobain. They unplugged the amps, flicked their picks into the audience one last time, collected their hurrahs, spat wistfully, finished their beers, and promptly broke up.

And so ends our conduit, right? Well, not exactly. You see, some of the members of Union Carbide got a little restless, what with the free time on their hands, the music they heard on the radio, and the music they heard in their headphones in the studio at the end of the band's run. Sure, they still loved Iggy and Beefheart and the MC5, but they also started getting into the Beach Boys and the Byrds.

From the still-toxic waste of UCP, a bird of a new feather arose. In typical band fashion, it was decided the band's moniker would be The Soundtrack of Our Lives, after a lyric written by frontman Ebbot Lundberg. For some inexplicable reason -- perhaps a cocktail of cockiness and camp -- the name stuck.

Fast forward to this year, and the band's appropriately titled LP Behind The Music. A chap by the name of Noel Gallagher declared the album the best to come out in the last six years. NME, Q, and Mojo soon joined in the group hug, and The Hives toss shout-outs the band's way any chance they get. As such, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, once a name willfully obscure, now seems to be an accurate descriptive for a number of folks.

Formed in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1994, TSOOL had all the hallmarks of an across-the-board, across-the-pond hit. There's big hits of swirling psychedelia in the music, subtle soul and R&B shadings, and enough MC5 nods to remind you that yes, they can indeed, kick out the jams.

However, the biggest key to the band's meteoric rise in rock circles is their ability to turnstile-hop the language barrier. Lundberg growl-sings his existentialist phlegm hymns like someone who grew up on the 80s indie label SST but then went on to grad school for philosophy. Lundburg, unlike proteges like head Hive Screamin' Pelle Almqvist, is a master of lyrical dualism in a time where most bands settle for double entendre. Mind you, the twin guitar attack of Ian Person and Mattias Barjed doesn't hurt. Barjed's former band, the Nymphet Noodlers, was a favorite of Dave Wyndorf of Monster Magnet, so you know they were heavy (and probably a little perverted).

Another factor? Confidence -- forged during the salad years of the Carbide, when they were routinely slagged by the Swedish music press and establishment, despite being feted by most of the major indie bands in America. The band would routinely hole themselves up in a house to record, often donning costumes and dresses to set the proper mood. They were able to record the songs exactly as they wanted, and had confidence that if it was good enough for those in the band -- whose opinions they respected more than anyone else's -- it would be good enough for the world at large. They were right. Within a few years, they opened for the Rolling Stones in Stockholm.

Mostly, however, it's because they rock, in the classical form, with just the right amount of 21st century dread. TSOOL return to the days when rock bands used to try and heal the world with their music even while stuffing their pants, building and destroying cathedrals of feedback at will and not feeling even the slightest bit self-conscious about the whole affair. Songs are given titles like "Mantra Slider" and "Instant Repeater," templates The Hives have cribbed to fine effect (see the negative image to "Instant Repeater," The Hives' "Main Offender"). Individual expression is not only allowed, it's required -- most everyone in the band is a songwriter.

Barjed can do a blues run that would make Jimmy Page proud. Some have beards like John Bonham. Sitars share the stage with Stratocasters. And like Led Zeppelin, the lyrics continually celebrate the music on equal levels with the Great Beyond and their own ramshackle sexuality: see the quivery "Endless Song" ("Take a trip in an endless song"; "To stay in tune...is to stay in time"). Yes, TSOOL have it all down, these rock lessons gleaned from album covers and Creem magazine.

Especially, it seems, the part about taking the music that came before you, synthesizing it through yourself and the time in which you live, and making something that sounds so completely and gloriously new that the name of your band ceases to become an insult or bombastic in-joke, but rather sounds like the coolest string of words you've heard in quite some time.

Like, say, Led Zeppelin.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives will perform at Tremont Music Hall on Thursday, October 31. Tickets cost $10 in advance and $12 the day of the show. Call the club at 704-343-9494, for more details.

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