SWEDEN: Koop Islands - Koop
As old meets new on this multi-genred record, its minimalist approach is simultaneously the key to its success whilst also the reason for its slight downfall
Many sub-genres could be used as labels to describe this record. Yet, from nu jazz to trip-hop to acid jazz, none quite sum it up perfectly. This is because there are a myriad of styles used within the record that all slightly diverge from one another. If there are perhaps two common devices used throughout the majority of the album that could help us to determine where exactly its vinyl should be placed in the record stores, one might look to the swing instrumentation and electronic beats to naively label it electro-swing. However, this could not be further from the reality of the album. Unlike legends of the genre such as Caravan Palace, [dunkelbunt] and Parov Stelar who build a fun party tempo by astutely picking samples they can ramp up on the decks, what separates Koop is that they focus on the use of jazzy instrumentation which slows their music right down.
“...its soundscapes paint imagined landscapes of islands in the mind of the listener, as one sways their body in time with the music like a palm tree might against the ocean breeze.”
This intelligent style sometimes makes it hard to discern whether there is a full orchestra at the helm or simply two nerdy DJs behind a laptop. The answer is both. One could imagine being in a dingy cocktail bar on a cold Thursday night in the outskirts of Stockholm as Oscar Simonsson and Magnus Zingmark take to the decks in order to spin a few of their tunes for a relatively deserted dancefloor, yet at the same time I could picture them playing to a huge crowd at a summer festival alongside a big band impressing the audience with some superb instrumentation.
Koop Islands sometimes feels rather appropriately named. At times, its soundscapes paint imagined landscapes of islands in the mind of the listener, as one sways their body in time with the music like a palm tree might against the ocean breeze. The opening-track, Koop Island Blues, my favourite song which sets the tone for much of the album, has a simultaneously upbeat yet melancholic Latin feel which conjures up memories of the accompanying type of soundtrack used by a TV broadcaster as the music played as the backdrop to a nostalgic montage to the mark the end of a sporting event hosted by a Latin American nation (visualise the end of the most recent Olympics, Copa América or World Cup, all of which have been hosted in Brazil). The minimalistic samba rhythms are perhaps even more prominent much later in the album on Let’s Elope which although is accompanied by boring crooning is rescued by the superb saxophone solo which comes in and saves the day.
Whilst the first song is the stand-out track on the album, and as such has been used often in popular culture, for example in Breaking Bad, the record maintains a high-quality, particularly in the first half. Yukimi Nagano’s vocals which feature alongside a great trombone solo, evoke images of Christmas in the second track Come To Me, as the song sounds like it could fit perfectly into Michael Bublé’s festive back catalogue. She pops up several times on the album, most notably on the bouncy I See A Different You which stands out for its impressive use of the vibraphone. The track comes directly after Forces… Darling which creates the most epic ‘big-band feeling’ on the entire album due to its great percussive intro and Magnus Lindgren’s incredible clarinet solo.
However, the album though somewhat interesting in the second half, feels considerably more docile never reaching the heights of tracks which are more ambitious in its use of instrumentation in the first half. Instead, the record turns almost into a lounge album, which is not a problem per say, but it feels like the duo slow down the speed of the party train that those listening were boarding to such an extent that it encourages anyone who may have been dancing to find a seat to admire from afar instead. Elevator music such as Moonbounce, the album’s only fully instrumental song, is of good quality but feels comparatively underwhelming. The same could be said for Whenever There Is You which would serve as a perfect accompaniment for a posh dinner rather than a party.
It would be remiss to discuss the second half of the album without addressing the elephant in the room – Beyond The Son. In some regards, I respect this song… in others, I hate it. What starts with the sounds of lapping waves, an appropriate nod to the album name, soon escalates into what I can only describe as ‘Phil Daniels and Blur try their hand at jazz’. It is safe to say, that this car-crash of an experiment on the one hand makes me laugh and I genuinely admire the comedy of the line ‘No, I hadn't heard Björn Borg retired. Thank God one of us has a finger on a sporting pulse’ partially due to how niche the reference is, the fact that the tennis star retired in 1983 and just the idea of that being the first thing someone would write in a letter home. On the other hand Earl Zinger’s (Rob Gallagher) cockney geezer’s spoken word piece does not fit at all into the tone of the album and is a bona fide mood killer.
Despite what might seem a harsh critique, overall I still really like the album, I just think there were some basic errors made in terms of the ordering of the songs as well as in its at times docile approach. Nonetheless, there is still much to be admired on the album. Incorporating live instrumentation that it is of such an authentically high quality is not exactly a simple thing to do on an electronic album and the duo should be proud of their attempt. Furthermore, with the exception of Beyond The Son, there are actually no bad songs on their own terms, any criticisms that are levelled at the music simply come in the context of the album. Either way, whether I am in a festival or queuing up for a glass of red at a jazz bar, if Koop Island Blues is played I know there will be a lot for me to enjoy.