The Sounds, Living In America (New Line Records)
“We’re not living in Ameeerica…” goes the chorus to the title track of The Sounds new record. Though by that point, it’s screamingly obvious that they’re not living in America. If they were, they’d have known that their brand of high-pitched keyboard rock music went out of fashion in the early 80s.
I’d call them out-of-date, but in Europe this is cutting edge. What with the devastating taxation and all the communism, Europe is still living in the late 1970s. In Sweden, where The Sounds formed and decided to name their band after Nashville’s minor league baseball team, milk still comes in cardboard boxes.
That said, I’m eating it up like Kinder Sorpresa chocolate eggs.
Behind the high-pitched keys and energetic guitar, The Sounds rhythm section stays tight. Occasionally, the minimal drums are so locked in that they sound like a machine. The bass changes styles to suit the songs — one is bouncy disco, one is overdriven “punk” — but never emerges from its place in the rhythm.
It is Maja Ivarsson’s voice which commands the listener’s attention. Its forwardness in the mix is almost rude and her flat and gruff timbre will surely put off some listeners immediately. However Ivarsson carries every song. Without her, The Sounds would be too thin and gimmicky.
Over the rumbling electro pulse of “Fire,” Ivarsson’s choral cries add the guts. Though in her thick accent, it doesn’t necessarily sound human. “Reggie” and “Hope You’re Happy Now” sound straight out of the New Wave fakebook — the latter is their best Blondie impression. But, it is the unlisted final song that really cements their sound.
Where early in the set “Seven Days a Week” and “Living in America” have anthemic qualities in their noisy, almost obnoxiously catchy choruses, the last song is dark and minimal. Its staccato guitar, pulsing bass, and clicking drums allow plenty of room for a simple keyboard melody with Ivarsson’s voice even more upfront than usual. She sounds haggard and desperate as her double-tracked voice sings, “We Are! The S-O-U-N-D-S!” Its eerie emptyness and the fact that they are unafraid to accent the thin sounds of their instruments hints that The Sounds have an untapped dimension to them. And I’m sure they have quite a few more chant-alongs up their sleeves.