I adored Flowers, the debut from Swedish psychedelic rock band Children of the Sün, in 2019 and it only missed out on being my album of the month for August 2019 by a heartbeat. This follow-up is a peach of a difficult second album. Sure, it didn't wow me as much as its predecessor but that has more to do with me being hip to their game now than any lack of quality. I know what they can do. They're not going to surprise me, but they're certainly going to entertain me.
It feels like a more mature release to me, as the band admirably diversifying their sound without losing any of their power. And that power is in full effect on the opener, Reflection, not only in the amazing voice of Josefina Berglund Ekholm but in the band behind her too. This one builds from a soothing start through a searing midsection to a soothing finish. It reminds me in fewer than four minutes why I love this band so much.
If Reflection is typical for them, their range is admirably highlighted over the next three tracks, in which they cover a lot of ground, some of it new. Leaves kicks off with an early seventies hard rock riff but the vocal shifts from Joan Baez through Dolores O'Riordan to Abba, so it's not all heavy. It isn't dark either, which Blood Boils Out is, from the very outset. It looks forward too, adding some eighties into the very sixties mix, even if it feels like it could always been a cunning cover of a Nina Simone song that we've never heard before. It's built out of small things: a minimal piano line, an omnipresent shaker, hand claps, some percussion. It grows magnicently.
It's where we hear something new in the Children of the Sün sound and that's backed up by what's in Gaslighting. There's still a lot of sixties here, a strident Grace Slick vocal leading the way, but it has plenty of eighties too. There's Siouxsie in here and post-punk in its gorgeous energy, even as it builds to a neat guitar solo from Jacob Hellenrud. It's loose in an Inkubus Sukkubus style and, if it's at all hippie, it's a much later All About Eve neo-hippie vibe rather than the old school Woodstock one we might expect.
And so we go. There are thirteen tracks here, though a couple are brief instrumental pieces, one a Epilogue because it says so and the other an interlude even if it doesn't. That's Willow Tree and it leads into the title track, which is hypnotic pagan ritual, even if it evolves into something more, as so many of these songs do, not least another vocal workout for Berglund Ekholm. She gets quite a few of those here, though I'm as impressed by her delicate moments in between as the spotlights. There are plenty of those, in songs like Eden, Man in the Moon and In Silva.
Really, there's plenty of everything. Those delicate songs feature an acoustic guitar that I'd swear at points is played by Jimmy Page. The Soul is a wild spiritual with a John Kongos groove. Thunder lets us believe it's going to rumble along like a heavy blues song but then switches gear on us as it finds a Heartless Bastards sort of vibe. Reaching for Sun may be the best example of the mix of old and new, because it has an old rock sound, like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but filtered through a tighter, more modern groove that's sometimes reminiscent of Nick Cave.
I've been playing this album all day and I'm still discovering little details, as if it's an old coat that I bought used that fits perfectly and I keep finding new pockets with little treasures in them. These songs wax and wane on me, different ones standing out on each listen. Blood Boils Hot and Roots may be relatively static as my top favourites but others come and go. Right now Eden is rising and Man in the Moon falling, but the only song that I don't adore is In Silva. It's still a good song but it introduces a male voice that tries to match Berglund Ekholm's and inevitably fails, however much it tries. It's not a bad voice but it would need to be a special one to survive here.
And so I think this is my first 9/10 for the month, which means it's leading the way to the Album of the Month slot that its predecessor so narrowly missed out on. Let's see in a week's time.