Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Nomads' "Solna"

Solna is named after the Stockholm 'burb out of which these Swedish brats burst back in '81, playing a hard-edged hybrid of '60s garage grunt, proto-punk power, and Cramps-derived rockabilly rumble with a fervor that only true fans could muster. Over the next decade, they developed a knack for songwriting on a par with like-minded outfits like NYC's Dictators, Orstralia's Hitmen, and Dallas' Nervebreakers, culminating in their first magnum opus, 1991's Sonically Speaking.

They first visited the U.S. in the mid-'90s, after releasing Powerstrip on Sympathy for the Record Industry, in the first wave of a veritable Scandinavian invasion that also included the Hellacopters, Gluecifer, Turbonegro, and, um, the Hives. I had the good fortune to see them play three shows, each under very different circumstances, one week in the spring of Y2K, all of 'em on borrowed gear (except for singer Niklas Valberg's tremelo unit and guitarist Hans Ostlund's fuzz box). They killed every time. The memory of those shows is still so fresh in my mind that it's hard to believe it's been over a decade since their last album (2001's Up-tight).

The new disc -- on which bassist Bjorne Froberg and producer Chips Kiesbye penned the lion's share of the tunage -- opens with two songs that could serve as a primer of the Nomads' style. "Miles Away" explodes out of the gate in a furious blast of crashing chords and thunderous drumming before settling into a Stooge-y groove, over which Vahlberg spits out the lyrics, which are simultaneously contemptuous and tongue-in-cheek: "You're at the bottom of a bottomless pit / Some people just don't know when to quit." Then they cap it off with a singalong chorus. "Hangman's Walk" kicks off with a monstro fuzz riff and gang-vocal "Heys!" that reminds us that the Nomads started out as the Scandi sons of the Sonics. "Can't Go Back" and "Up, Down and Sideways" also exemplify their classic sound.

An unexpected development here is the emergence of Hans Ostlund as guitar hero. The minor-key "The Bad Times Will Do Me Good" and "20,000 Miles" sound like nothing so much as shades of Blue Oyster Cult via Radio Birdman, replete with scorching, wide-vibrato'd solos -- in the case of the latter tune, a compact ride that includes a tasteful wah workout. (I had to ask Vahlberg what fuzz box his bandmate was using, so sweet was Ostlund's tone. The skinny: old Big Muff, Vox Tone Bender, and Boss DS-1.)

A few of the tracks add some pop flair to the Nomads' signature crash 'n' thump. "You Won't Break My Heart" crossbreeds country as practiced by the '69 Stones (cf. "Dead Flowers") with Beach Boys harmonies. "Make Up My Mind" sounds downright Spector-rific, thanks to Chips' tubular bells. (Elsewhere, the producer's piano triplets add variety to the record's sonic palette.) And Joakim Ericson's drums propel "Trying Too Hard" forward with the sleekness of a Motown dance jam.

By the time they close things out with "The Bells," you realize that as far as the Nomads have traveled from the youthful energy of Outburst, they enter their third decade as powerful and assured a unit as ever. Since their last outing, rock 'n' roll has become an older man's game, and these Swedes are clearly in it for the duration. "When the bells play my song, I'll be gone," Vahlberg sings. Here's hoping they don't ring for a long, long time.


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