The songs of Victoria Bergsman have always struck me as those of a sort of seeker, someone after something elusive and alluring which neither she nor anyone else could pin a name on. No matter how laconic her voice gets (and it gets very, very laconic) it always seems packed with the pent up desire for a pleasurable state of affairs that doesn’t begin to wilt away just as it has flowered into fullness and beauty. The sorrow of her lovelorn laments is the sorrow of someone for whom real life always feels elsewhere, not quite unattainable, but distant and difficult to take hold of. It’s all about longing for a vibrancy which appears in flashes of lucidity only to recoil and become a phantom, a vagary, as much daydream as concrete reality.
It is not surprising, then, that she chose to leave behind the trappings of comfort and set out for Pakistan to record a different kind of record. To travel should be to see and experience new things and people and cultures, yes, but also to get away from oneself, to become other and extend the potential ways of being in the world. East of Eden is a record marked by Bergsman’s distinctive style of singing and themes of loss and the willful restoration of hope; it is also a canvas dotted, striped, and splashed by the minimal and absorbing guitar playing of Andreas Söderström, who traveled to Pakistan with her. They recruited local Sufi musicians to play with them, recorded the results, and brought them back to Sweden where Studio’s Dan Lissvik pieced things together and added his special production touch to proceedings.
That said, Eden does not feel like a radical departure, and the incorporation of Pakistani instrumentation and ambience is both subtle and in harmony with Bergsman’s restrained singing and ruminative lyrics. “To Lose Someone” opens the album on a sustained note of mourning, of things slipping away—a time, a place, a person—before what needed to be said could be said. It showcases Söderström’s guitar playing and is interspersed with doleful passages played on recorder. Along with “Watch the Waves” and “Day by Day” it marks one of the high points in the interchange of musical styles and traditions on the album.
“Anna” and “Greyest Love of All” sound like letters written to friends or to oneself, whispered warnings of things to come, or thoughtful gestures which attempt to make some productive sense out of past happenings. Slowly they build around the frail levity of Bergsman’s voice, playing out the changes in perspective that the songs attempt to make possible. And that is most of all what the record as a whole does: alters the lyrical sentiments by placing them in new musical contexts which make the words shift in value along with their developing and diminishing contexts.
Even the cover of Animal Collective’s “My Girls”—”My Boys”—can easily be understood as an extension of Bergsman’s preoccupations. When Noah Lennox sings the song it is euphoric because it is such a bold expression of earthly happiness achieved in the simple and infinite rewards of human relationships. When Bergsman sings it, floating on clapping percussion and loose guitar lines, it feels like a wish song, a dream of happiness rather than an expression of its having been achieved. And in the end a lot of these songs seem like that. They acknowledge the inability to come to a comfortable, satisfying state of being at the same time that they attempt to analyze and overcome it. The presence of Pakistani musicians and the fact that Bergsman recorded the record as a journey on a journey, come through in the final product. Life becomes vivid and vital in the attempts to make it so. Answers may not be divined here in a form that we can communicate, but this record, lightness touching on shadows time after time, is an impressive marking out of one person’s desire for life and a refraction of that same desire within many of us out here, listening in.
Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Beck – Sea Change
Camera Obscura – Underachievers Please Try Harder
MP3: “Watch the Waves”