During the early '80s, after punk had dispensed of the notion that there were rules which pop had a duty to obey, and nascent synthesizer technology gave more people than ever before the opportunity to produce music on their own, the indie underground and the mainstream charts became invaded by what was, until then, a relatively scarce configuration: the fully sufficient duo.
Of course, there had been duos before. But never had there been duos who created so much sound with so little means. Think early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (recently the subject of great reappraisal), which made economy sound luxurious and pop singles sound like high art; or Soft Cell, whose records are some of the most subversive dancefloor fillers of all-time; or Pet Shops Boys, whose every sonic and aesthetic decision has been guided by a stubbornly exacting vision. Out of the spotlight, Eyeless in Gaza and Fantastic Something made marvelous music that reached few pairs of ears but seemingly left none of them unmoved. At their best, duos are a uniquely formidable type of creative chemistry.
In the music of Sweden's Kuryakin - made up of Petter Gjöres (vocals, guitar, computers) and Johan Norberg (guitar, computers) - one hears that same alchemical magic that occurs when two simpatico minds go in pursuit of a singular result. Theirs is music stripped of surplus, that achieves great sophistication with few embellishments and a razor-sharp focus.
"Myself, I've always liked ambitious pop music that's rather unpredictable but, at the same time, never loses the focus on melodies," says Johan, who met Petter at Uppsala University in 2002 and started making music with him a year later. "Prefab Sprout and the songs of Jimmy Webb are great in that kind of way. I think we both have a great love for major-seventh harmonies, and strings as well. We've thought in terms of orchestras, but I think we're beginning to realize that the music becomes more fun when we have to make the most of the sounds with a computer, using samples and electronic sounds instead."
Petter and Johan, perhaps unsurprisingly, are great admirers of Scritti Politti, Junior Boys, and Saint Etienne - all of them groups who have expanded the stylistic palette of what is, ostensibly, electronic pop. But the pair also love sixties Sunshine Pop (The Free Design, Roger Nichols & the Small Circle of Friends), bossa nova (Marcos Valle, Antonio Carlos Jobim), and nu-soul singer Ne-Yo. What unites all those artists is a commitment to melody, to making more of less, and to composing songs that set up permanent residence in the mind.
Still Here, Kuryakin's debut EP, is remarkably assured and coherent, especially considering how it was made: Petter lives in Stockholm, while Johan is in Uppsala. They email ideas to each other, then get together a few times each month to flesh them out. "I have to work on songs in solitude," Johan admits. "It's better to have some ideas and then ask Petter what he thinks. Then he can add something new to it, or the other way around. But it would be much better if we lived in the same city.
"Still Here contains lots of older songs we haven't been able to release before now... We've joked that we should call it our greatest hits album."
From the sweeping romanticism of "Take My Hand" to the subtle Brazilian swing of "A Parade," there is a stylistic breadth throughout Still Here's seven songs that indeed makes it sound like a compilation that arrived well into Kuryakin's career. That this is only the beginning leaves us to imagine the seemingly limitless places they might go to from here.
Praise for Kuryakin:
"The most obviously Scandinavian of the three Shelflife Records acts I delighted in this past weekend, Kuryakin open their EP with "Take my hands", a song that combines the lush dreaminess of The Radio Dept. with the sample-happy, Motown feel of Jens Lekman -- which is quite an accomplishment to say the least. Effortlessly integrating the organic with the electronic, Kuryakin may carry a torch that many would feel The Radio Dept. initially lit, but this torch lights a very different path for Kuryakin. On "Still here" there is a buoyancy where similar bands explore melancholy, and Kuryakin retain this optimism without sacrificing any of the ethereal quality of their songwriting. "Peace of mind", the closer of the EP, has all the makings of a heartrending composition, instead the song channels all of these genre techniques down brighter avenues. The deft craftsmanship that went into "Still here" has put Kuryakin firmly on my list of artists to keep an eye on. I have the feeling these recordings are only the beginnings of a wonderful catalog." - It's a Trap "Peter Gjorges and Johan Norberg create classic dreamy pop, the kind of sweet pop music that Shelflife has always been known for finding. Influenced by bands such as Free Design, The Sundays, Eggstone, Aztec Camera and a slew of 70s pop their upcoming release is chalk full songs that will help your upcoming summer blues breeze on by." - Twenty Seven Views "Tell me, what's better than indie laptop pop? Swedish indie laptop pop, of course. Kuryakin have been perfecting their songs since they formed in 2003. Now through a series of ep's and singles they are ready to unleash their perfect pop unto the world. Their debut ep, Still Here, is out now on Shelflife.
The title track encompasses all that Kuryakin strive for with it's moody beats, floating synths and laid back vocals. Other songs from the ep incorporate shoegazey guitar solos and a bit of noise. But this is pure sugary pop at it's best." - Swedesplease "If you like to sway to sweet, simple songs that are perfect for to listen to on a rainy Sunday morning, pick up this album." - Panic Manual "...sounds like a bright mixture of Radio Dept and the Avalanches..." - Pop 'n Cherries
Catalogue number: LIFE1004
Artwork by: Björn Jansson
1. Take My Hand (mp3)
2. Still Here
5. Peace of Mind
B. A Parade ON THE WEB:
www.myspace.com/kuryakinmusic PRESS DOWNLOADS:
Cover art hi-res