This hyper talented Swedish keyboardist from Gothenburg made his name with my collection when I stumbled on his early career with a marvellous but short-lived group called Valinor’s Tree, who had released two real cool albums, 1998’s “Kingdom of Sadness” and a final one, fittingly titled “And Then There Is Silence”, the latter having a tune called ‘Reaching for Angels’ which I still revisit fondly after so many years! A quarter of a century later, John reappears into my life with a thrilling instrumental solo album, that just may just become the year’s most celebrated discovery.
Don’t let the bucolic Scandinavian folky artwork fool anyone, this is as intense as one could ever hope for in a recording, as expressed right from the get-go on the thrilling “Ekipaget” setting the highly cinematographic mood from the opening note and keeping the film rolling until the reel falls to the ground, empty. A singular steamroller bass/drum groove for the ages, upon which John lays down overwhelming symphonics (mostly, that ghostly mellotron), I was immediately reminded of an instrumental version Love Like Blood from Killing Joke, a churlish universe of sweeping keyboards and choppy guitars, shoved along by a rocket-fuel injected rhythm section that spares no punches. An absolute fireball opener.
No immediate mercy or remorse is offered on the title track, as its an off the charts companion piece, a mesmerizing, incredibly haunting and moody instrumental of the finest order, the organ work submitting a sense of foreboding doom in the process, what with that thumping bass and an extended Per Laang saxophone blast, flush with fury. The main melody sounds like some romantic yearning from years gone by, strangely extremely familiar in its repetitive beauty and surely one of 2023‘s top tracks, period!
The tingling elegance of “Borck” continues the love story but in a softer vein, with an excruciatingly 60s cinema feel that is unmistakable. The modern electronics adda contemporary sheen that makes it even more palatable. Brilliant little jewel!
John’s jazzy side arises on the spectacular “Traktatet”, where John interacts with his inner Brian Auger by caressing his keyboards with a finesse that his hard to fathom, spreading sparkling Rhodes e-piano flourishes, whistling organ runs and grandiose synthesized ornamentations, every note ostensibly has a meaning and purpose. Finally, Pontus Thostensson’s shuffling drums are just the right amount of pulse needed. The symphonic outro is as grandiose as one can pray for. Absolute genius track that could have been made by Dutch legends Focus back during its Moving Days period.
A little shock treatment is needed, as the initial invigorating bluster “Spjutet” comes as a welcome wallop, Elof Hanson Svensson’s electric and later acoustic guitar helps to elevate the flute synthesizer solo that carves the main melody here, mellotron a few steps behind, before the e-guitar and John’s synthesizer decide to duke it out. This sulfurous blowout turns into a real shootout at the fantasy factory as the sonic inferno races out of control, spewing crackling edges that sear profoundly and show no pity.
The suave sounds of “Vargtimmen“ act like a soothing balm, as Kristin Lidell’s profound trumpet first applies the needed anaesthesia, while John’s erudite organ gauze adds the perfect amount bandaging, recalling a Whiter Shade of Pale in mood if not in style. Drifting off into a slippery synth solo that is maddeningly restrained at first, yet utterly à propos, it flutters along like a newly liberated butterfly. As the two main soloists coalesce, heaven’s doors are announced with a gong.
Time for some more complex symphonics as bassist Anders Brisman and drummer Matthias Jarlhed combine to help rev up the organ on “Gycklaren”, flirting once again with grandiose themes that hit the mark. No holding back as gargantuan mellotron winds blast through the arrangement, further piqued by oblique Svensson guitar phrasings that only increase the palpable tension, a volcanic eruption of progressive madness.
No finer release of pent-up pressures than good old “Nostalghia”, featuring vocalist Maria Palmqvist’s crystalline operatic interpretation, as John leads his various ivories into another neo-classical slice of harmonic brilliance, all floating along the loveliest of melodies and the Rhodes e-piano being a particular luxury. I cannot help shaking my head in admiration. What a fabulous album this has been, magical stardust.
Easily another one of 2023’s finest releases and one that surely will astound those listeners who are smart enough to take the plunge, as this recording is a complete winner in all departments. Repeated listens only make the diagnosis even more correct.