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"The U.S. is more of a continent than a country," says Fredrik Nilsson, drummer of the Sounds, Sweden's latest attractive source of '80s new wave memories. Currently on tour in Los Angeles, Nilsson is somewhat awestruck on his second trip to America. "There's more musical tradition here...In Sweden, people only come out to shows on the weekends. In the states, people will drive for days to see a band they've never heard play on a Tuesday!"
Such fresh-faced innocence belies the band's salacious, swaggering image and its unapologetic debt to a decade of decadence. Vocalist Maja Ivarsson joyfully embodies every cliché of a hot Swedish blonde while the band's thrift-store chic celebrates the look, if not the sound, of the Ramones.
"I wouldn't call our stuff punk," says Nilsson, responding to descriptions from critical raves in Billboard and Rolling Stone. "We're open to a lot of music, from techno to country," he says, before adding, "but I think the critics have simply made it easy for themselves by calling us 'new wave.'"
Despite Nilsson's protests, it's obvious from the opening notes of "Song With a Mission," the first cut on sophomore effort Dying to Say This to You, that the Sounds owe a debt to Blondie and later purveyors of campy sensuality such as Berlin and Missing Persons. Over a pulsing, skinny-tie beat, Ivarsson declares with simplistic gravity: "You're feeling shitty/I don't feel no pity," as keyboardist Jesper Anderberg recycles every gurgling blurp from the likes of Gary Numan and Human League.
Yet most of the songs on Dying offer a more jaded perspective on life and love than the band's spandex- and headband-clad inspirations. In "Ego," Ivarsson's venom is frighteningly tangible: "I've seen your fucking attitude/I've been doing someone you know," she spits as the band attempts to shed its bubblegum tendencies.
"We're not bitter people," Nilsson says, "but the general feel of this record is darker than our first one." He is quick to point out that the Sounds does sound different from any of its homeland contemporaries. "Sweden's very trendy," he says. "Everything's cool for half a year. Last year, it was baggy pants and rap, but we've been doing our style for three years." Notwithstanding its debt to an era some of us would gladly forget, The Sounds' style is sincere in its substance and execution. "With this new record, we've grown as people and musicians," says Nilsson. "I think that's all anyone can ask for."