By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Two years ago, Gustav Estjes was ready to quit rock music. The 28-year-old multi-instrumentalist mastermind behind Swedish psych-folk rockers Dungen had just put the finishing touches on Tio Bitar, the group's fourth release since forming in Stockholm in 1999, and the second for which Estjes wrote all the songs, played most of the instruments, and recorded, mixed, and mastered the music all himself.
"After Tio Bitar, I was exhausted," Estjes recalls. "I left Stockholm and went to my house out in the country. I didn't want to do any Dungen music: no touring, no playing...nothing."
Estjes decamped to his familial home in Alstermo, a small village in southern Sweden of fewer than 900 residents where his mother and grandmother grew up. While Estjes spent most days painting houses for work, his nights were soon filled with music again after his grandmother gave him her old, upright piano. And reconnecting with his grandmother's piano stirred something in Estjes. Rather than write and record a song in a single day—as was his practice for past Dungen albums—Estjes wanted to spend more time writing and arranging the songs. It was a lesson he took from Jonny Soling, his longtime teacher and one of Sweden's most accomplished fiddlers.
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The 10 tracks that comprise Dungen's most recent album, 4, borrow equally from jazz ("Det Tar Tid"), acid-rock ("Sätt Att Se"), pop ("Mälerås Finest") and even some funkier grooves ("Ingenting Är Sig Likt," "Fredag"). Though the two-part instrumental madness of "Samtidigt 1" and "Samtidigt 2" will have fans of the band's long improvisational jams flipping their lids, 4 reveals a more focused effort from Estjes that is due in part to a change in his recording process. For the first time since the band's 2001 self-titled debut, Estjes asked his bandmates—drummer Johan Holmegard, bassist Mattias Gustavsson and guitarist Reine Fiske—to join him in the studio, which resulted in a tighter, full-band record, compared with the sprawling visions of 2007's Tio Bitar and 2004's marvelous Ta Det Lugnt.