I don’t ordinarily measure quality of beats in geographical terms, but Sweden had something of a monopoly on the best dance music of 2007. Stockholm’s The Field set the bar pretty high for minimal, yet climactic house music, while Gothenburg duo The Tough Alliance rocked a Balearic-flavored pop jam like it was 1989. Studio were the real dance floor all-stars of the year, as their compilation Yearbook 1, which paired their West Coast LP with 12-inch “No Comply” for a sprawling 8 track spread that swirls countless styles, genres, nuances and hints to create a new form of beat-oriented pop that sounds oddly nostalgic, though undeniably fresh.
Dan Lissvik and Rasmus Hägg have been called the missing link between The Cure and Lindstrøm, and with good reason. While their modus operandi is much similar to that of the latter, crafting ultra-cool and sleek dance music with a sexy chill that could only blow in from Scandinavia, their melodic sensibility and post-punk leanings push them farther toward the likes of Robert Smith’s gloom-pop, or at times, Joy Division’s more ethereal singles. Beneath this hybrid of post-punk and house, there are traces of dub and Afro-beat, Krautrock and disco, melted down into an incredibly eclectic amalgam, which also makes for one of the most consistently enjoyable dance albums in some time.
Single “No Comply” struts along a bouncy piano hook, its buoyant groove quite similar to that of Gothenburg neighbors The Tough Alliance, as its companion piece “Radio Edit,” which is, ironically enough, twice the length, expands its deep bassline and ethereal samples into an instrumental `nite version’ of sorts, custom made for both headphones and discotheques. The 15-minute “Out There” is an enormous track, though a truly amazing one, as the duo most explicitly shows off their Afro-beat influence over an insistent and simple pop beat, firmly grounding the track’s more exotic nature in a fluid 4/4 movement. “West Side” is the album’s true peak, a slowly progressing track that best displays their Cure-like tendencies, the song itself sounding like a dub remix of “A Forest,” with a self-explanatory hook of the repeated line “solid good times.” Easily their most accessible song, it’s a dense and gorgeous production, one that’s as likely to get one’s feet moving as it is to find that same person lost in a daydream.
“Self Service (Short Version)” is, as one might infer from the title, the shortest song on the record, and a catchy romp at that, while “Origin (Shake You Down By the River)” layers on a thick haze of guitar distortion, juxtaposing dub rhythms with shoegazer fuzz. “Life’s a Beach” is another immense track at 13 minutes, but a stunning one at that, with hypnotic guitar licks encircling one another over tom-tom heavy beats. It’s an instrumental odyssey, but in the spirit of it’s name, sounds like paradise, and now that I think of it, “paradise” is pretty much the perfect way to sum up Yearbook 1.