SWEDEN/HAITI/MEXICO: Songs I-V - Rocks and Waves Song Circle
Updated: Apr 23
On the surface, this album seems a true enigma; yet by exercising patience and acceptance its truth will surely reveal itself to you...
We are yet to feature an album shrouded in such a mystery as Songs I-V. The first time I heard the album, I was unaware of the story of how the album supposedly came about. During a period of time in which I was less well-accustomed to the sound and broader appeal of experimental music in general, it is fair to say that my immediate feeling after initial consumption of the record was one of confusion. At that time the confusion I felt was rooted in neither disdain nor appreciation for the album but just a pure lack of understanding at what exactly it was I had just listened to. I think, however, that listening to the music before being clouded by one’s own thoughts about the mysterious creation of the record was an important part of the process to get me to where I am with it today.
“In fact, were I to shut my eyes and imagine the album being recorded, I can only envisage it taking place with the sun beaming around the group performing.”
Typically, I would be comforted to know that a reader has not given up half way through reading a review on our site, however, I would not begrudge anyone who has no knowledge of the record that choses to stop reading at this point, before I discuss the album’s supposed origins, and go on listen to it uninfluenced now instead of continuing with the review. The information that is available about Songs I-V is scarce and as such there is only one account of how the album came into existence. Supposedly, according to an account from Swedish outsider artist Isak Sundström, who previously had a couple of stints in two Swedish indie rock bands, he was passing through an unspecified location in Mexico when he was doing field recordings and stumbled across a choir who he approached and asked to sing compositions he had written. Apparently, the lead singer on the album is from Haiti, but no names or further details of those involved in the production of the album are public knowledge.
Now, the cynic in you, might be so perturbed by the vague approximation of what happened that you fail to believe even Sundström’s version of events. Is it really possible for the stars to align in such a way that meant that the magic formula, of both willingness and cooperation mixed in with incredible talent, was reached creating an album in one afternoon that is, at points, so beautiful? If you dig too deep the story begs more questions than it answers. For example, one might even wonder through which language did this Swede communicate so effectively with the Haitian singer and Mexican choir to create pieces that demonstrate almost telepathic synchronicity between all those involved. It even begs the question as to whether the anonymity of the performers mean that they are being exploited, or even know of the record's existence.
It is through this kind of rabbit-hole that one can go down, feeling distrustful of Sundström, which could interfere with one’s appreciation of the record as a whole, to my mind missing the point of it entirely. As a journalist, my professional mission is to find truth. I have always been a curious soul, constantly asking why. Yet, for me, this album paradoxically is not about discovering the truth behind it, despite the alluring temptation for the inquisitive mind to wonder and probe at the inconclusive information we have been told. Rather, it is about accepting our limitations and appreciating the beauty of what we already have, even if sometimes it is difficult to understand.
The lyrics of II speak to this notion. The theme of the track is about trusting in defeat. I see this as a very powerful message, that speaks of both to our understanding of the album, but also perhaps more profoundly life itself. One might feel defeated in a quest to gain deeper knowledge of the record, yet, by letting go and trusting one is able to allow the album to speak to them in a far greater manner than it possibly could if the answers they wanted were, for example, to be easily found in an interview with Sundström. Furthermore, I believe this lesson is one that can be applied outside of one’s comprehension of the album. A wise man once said to me that ‘ambition is a wonderful thing, but your ambition has to serve you’. What I took to mean by this is that it is a great attribute to aim high in life and seek knowledge and understanding. However, sometimes when things are incomprehensible or insurmountable the best thing one can do is trust that there is a good reason they are not yet able to understand or achieve something, and instead of berating oneself for that, by accepting the situation as it is they are able to get closer to what it is they are seeking – in other words “we trust in the defeat”. This is a teaching that when I forget, things tend to go pear-shaped for me. Nevertheless, in an almost meditative form Sundström and co. have been able to remind me of this valuable lesson and can ground me in such a deeply profound way. If this means that fighting the urge to demand logic from this seemingly illogical record, and all that surrounds it, has not led to an eventual victory, then I am not sure what else would.
The music on the album can be best described as radiant. Even through some of the more melancholy moments on the record, there is always a sense of light shining through. In fact, were I to shut my eyes and imagine the album being recorded, I can only envisage it taking place with the sun beaming around the group performing. Rather bizarrely, for someone who has a tendency to be irked by what I fail to understand, my favourite song on the album is the final track, V, which sounds effectively like a 16-minute slowed down version of Galloping Home, the theme tune from 1970s British TV show Black Beauty. The almost endless and eternal nature of the song at moments makes the listener feel as though they are being trolled by Sundström, almost like a Conway Twitty cutaway scene from the animated sitcom Family Guy in which one cannot help but experience an almost incongruent selection of human emotions at the same time. Ultimately though, I am held captivated throughout not just by this song but the album as a whole, in which I have learnt to be able to trust the beauty in the sound of something for what it is and accept the mystery behind how it got there.