Review: Neon Heart ‘Söderut’

When I started to show interest in the music of Stockholm-based five-piece, atmospheric psych kraut rockers Neon Heart, they were already into their second full-length album. I investigated their sound to better understand their musical origins and they amazed me. The band was formed in mid-2000 by drummer and frontman Magnus Nordén (who also takes care of recording and mixing) together with musician friends with whom he was part of an improvising experimental ensemble called The Great Learning Orchestra.

Neon Heart 'Söderut' Artwork
Neon Heart ‘Söderut’ Artwork

From the early days until now, their music went through changes bringing out warmness in their sound and lyrics. On their first three releases, including their debut album as a trio, they deliver slow and intriguing instrumental free-form experimental ‘after midnight’ jazzy cinematic music, reminiscent of what was played in New York Lower East Side’s sweaty, smoky jazz clubs.

Johnny Karlsson Kern, who up until now was only giving to Neon Heart his heavy basslines, decided it was time to bring in his distinctive vocals throughout the albums to illuminate the entire body of each and every song. His voice is so heartbreaking and intense that it hits your mind’s senses and drags you into a world of celestial beauty. Voice and music complement each other so profoundly that you can smell his thoughts.

Their music from now on takes a different shape, it’s more leaning towards a psych kraut rock sound without leaving their primary jazz influences. Each opening begins with a galloping drumming sound joined by the rest of the instruments played with skill, love, carelessness and professionalism. Saxophonist Daniel Borgegård Älgå‘s sound is very special and overwhelming, which brings to mind a Lol Coxhill on acid meets Van der Graaf Generator’s David Jackson in his rehearsal routine. Sometimes the voice comes around after a long explosion of instrumental parts, and when it does come in, it fills your heart with immense pleasure.

In 2020 they delivered two more albums which musically stretched outside any musical perimeter. It’s pure mind-blowing, blissful mayhem. Not to forget the voice, still and always charismatic, devastating, the one that embodies the true spirit of Neon Heart’s music. Their never-ending creativity continued to grow, even during the disastrous world pandemic, delivering their superb double album Livet​/​Ytan (Life/ Surface). The album contains thirteen songs that show their natural musical eclecticism. Due to the pandemic, very rarely did the band play as a five-piece. ‘The pandemic,’ says Magnus, ‘made it difficult for us to get together with all five to record and rehearse so many of the songs on Livet/Ytan are actually trios or quartets. Only a few are quintets, with all five of us participating, which caused the limited meeting time, not the full band is involved in all the album.’

a magical masterclass…

Yet, still, the result is magnetic and hypnotizing, with the songs always sung in Swedish, and so are most of the song titles. After two years of continuous work, the band returns to shine with one of the most musically exceptional works of their entire career, Söderut (Southward). It’s another double album, and as with the previous one, it’s also published as a glass-mastered double compact disc with a limited edition of 300 in a six-panel eco pack featuring cover art by the Swedish artist Alexandra Kern.

Although the album treads the same musical sensibility as Livet/Ytan, with Söderut they sweep towards shores of natural musical wisdom with fluorescent and illuminating landscapes full of that intense emotion that only Neon Heart can expand and express through their music, lyrics and particularly through the calm, thoughtful and sincere voice of their singer and bassist Johnny Karlsson Kern. Not to mention the yearning sound coming out of Daniel Borgegård Älgå‘s saxophone, the swirling guitar chords provided by Björn Wallgren and the hypnotic drumbeat of Magnus Nordén, who once again is involved in the recording and mixing work.

This album fills my heart with joy for its knowing calmness and musical turbulence. How all the tools work inside them is a magical masterclass. There is not a song on the entire album that is out of place. They’re all chiselled with their emotional intents. Opener Vart tog du v​ä​gen (Where did you go) starts with experimental jazz moves to then roll itself into a completely frantic dark sound. Jagar dig (Chasing you) is an endless run of galloping sounds that spread through the air leaving a scent of heartfelt melancholy.

As you get into song five, Bråttom (In A Hurry), your mind is so soaked and involved by all their intriguing multifaceted sound and singing, that you’re left highly enthralled. I won’t continue describing the power that the band unleashes with Söderut as I want you to get captured by their sound and express your own emotions. This is the most musically immense, superb and captivating album you’ll listen to this year.

Label: Independent
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Caccamo