Eclectic Rock from Sweden: Strangers in Wonderland Catch My Attention

Some bands have a way of switching and blending styles while still sounding like the same bunch of musicians. I would say that these bands are the more successful ones as obviously they have found some way to put their own souls into their music... that's what keeps them sounding similar no matter what style they appropriate. Other bands even incorporate multiple genres into their own sound so that when they take their music in new directions not only does it still sound like the same musicians, but it sounds like a natural direction not like say... a blues band playing jazz, or a rock band playing reggae etc.

From what I've heard so far, I think Strangers in Wonderland is one of these bands with their own sound that can pursue all their different stylistic directions without losing that core sound and style.

Hailing from Stockholm Sweden, Strangers in Wonderland is one of the more eclectic bands I've listened to recently. They contacted me to check out their work through the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll twice actually. Although it took me a while to get around to it, I'm glad I did because although they're different than a lot of what I'm currently listening to, they've grown on me and I'm really digging their music.

Sort of hybrid between sweeping pop, glossy glam-esque rock, soul, blues, folk, funk, maybe a touch of cabaret and a few other genres too, all mixed together to create a sound that is completely unique to them, their songs takes twists and turns that are unexpected, but still sound completely natural. They're a duo, but on first listen you probably wouldn't think so, sounding quite rich and full. As odd as it may sound, maybe it's the powerful female vocals, or the fact that both are duos with a bit of an eclectic sound, the first band I really associate them with is the Eurythmics, but I don't think that's really a good correlation. I wouldn't be opposed to hearing Strangers in Wonderland do a cover of "Sweet Dreams (are Made of This)" though. Comparisons aside, this duo is making some compelling, soulful tracks with an eclectic, but powerful sound.

This band has four tracks available for download for free on their website, the same four you can listen to on their Myspace, so I'll start with those songs.

I think "Addicted" is the most predictable of these four, but I use that term loosely because it's negative implications are not intended. It's a bright, quasi-jangly, guitar driven pop track with sweet, sweeping vocals and arranged parts. It is catchy and deep compositionally with quite a thick arrangement. By predictable I mean that of these four, this is the most straight forward and in the vein of "traditional" modern pop flavors. It's still a a great song, but that said, personally I think the other three blow it out of the water in terms of composition and style, each with their own distinct flavor. These are the songs that really impressed me about this band.

"Behind the Mask" is a bluesy, soul infused, slow burner with a slight cabaret touch and massive vocals. Plenty of layers of sound, both backing vocals and instrument driven parts push this track beyond it's bluesy base towards massive epic grandeur, but vocally it always cuts through perfectly with quite a range and just a slight hard and soulful edge that I really like. I also like the simple soaring guitar licks that soar through at just the right moments that when combined with the vocal work up the bluesy feel; the perfect addition to push it into the spine tingling realm. "I Like It" goes in an entirely different direction with it's funky riff/beat and swaggering, jazzy seductiveness. I'm really digging the chorus of this track from the feel to the glossy layers of backing vocals and sounds built up to wall of sound proportions. It not only fits the song well, but is just so massively thick that it provides a great sound scape over which the lead vocals (just as soulful as the previous tracks) can arch and soar.

Although those two are fantastic in my book, I think I'd pick the first track I heard from this band actually, "House of Dreams", if I had to pick a favorite, but it'd be extremely close between it, "Behind the Mask," and "I Like It". This one begins with a simple, delicate, folksy acoustic riff, that seems slightly melancholy in feel. The vocal melody starts off more pulled back, just barely pushing towards that soulful edge in subtle places, but works really well with the softer backing. Then, in another change of direction they launch into an almost punk/glam like rock riff, kicking up the energy and the intensity. Just a great song that got stuck in my head immediately.

You can also listen to a wide range of other tracks from these two on their website and blog. All of which continue their eclectic streak and sound compelling as well. "The Big One" has a folksy, bluesy ballad quality to it, maybe a touch of arena rock too, while "Still Standing" has a darker edge to it's atmospheric verses, but more straight forward choruses. "Walk With Me" is a little surprising as it's groove might even be described as borderline industrial, very visceral and angular. 'Stay" also sounds a touch darker in it's slow sweeping motions, while "In My Dreams" is more pulsing and has also really sparked my interest with a great chorus and vocal melody over different jabs of sound. Overall, a number of compelling tracks that add up to a very deep, but eclectic, band. I'm looking forward to listening to this bunch of songs in more depth to really wrap my brain around them.

As you can see, this duo dabbles in a range of styles, but handles them well with definite consistencies throughout. Perhaps the most instantly noticeable is the stellar vocal talents of Asa Girgensohn. Her voice is both soulfully and gritty, but sonorous at the same time, a perfect match for very authentic and honest lyrics, which she belts out with such confidence. Her compatriot Lasse Thomasson is no slouch either crafting some very complex arrangements, and creating massive, almost "wall of sound" type soundscapes. The stamp of their work together is all over these songs, giving them that consistent something, no matter what the style. There's also a slight grandiose feel to all the tracks that I associate just slightly with Broadway show tunes. You can interpret that how you will, but that's the only way I can describe it. It works well for them though. Lastly, their arrangements have a sort of gloss or sheen over all of it. This might be a turn off to some people, I'll admit that it was to me at first because it can give a slight 80s or overtly digital feel to these songs. It's grown on me though, to the point where I don't think it detracts from their music, perhaps because combined with the arrangements and lyrics it creates more of an atmosphere, like you're viewing the music "through the looking glass" and it's just slightly obscured, smoothed over and shiny.

Although the recorded tracks have such dense production, the band actually performs primarily as just a guitar & guitar/piano duo. They have a clip of them playing live on their website as well I recommend checking out as they seem to really distill these songs down to their folksy essence live, creating an entirely different atmosphere, while still retaining all the style and soul.

To sum everything up, if you're interested in some of the more eclectic modern rock and pop being made these days, I recommend you check out Strangers in Wonderland as I think you'll dig them. Special thanks to Asa and Lasse for passing along their music. I really enjoyed hearing it. They've definitely sparked my interest and I'm looking forward to exploring their music further and hearing what new eclectic sounds they come up with in the future.

Check out the Strangers Myspace page here: http://www.myspace.com/strangersinwonderland

Their webpage here: http://www.strangersinwonderland.com/

And their blog here: http://strangers-in-wonderland.blogspot.com/

All three have places you can listen to a few of their songs.

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