The Amazing: Ambulance Review

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The Amazing: <i>Ambulance</i> Review

There is no lyric sheet, and the only band picture that comes with Ambulance is a set of ghostly headshots, grey and blurred, like 19th-century daguerreotypes. The music, too, is blurry and reminiscent of a lost era. The Amazing, a Swedish group featuring Dungen guitarist/all-around prog guy Reine Fiske, specializes in a sort of long-winded, gorgeous psychedelia that is so unfashionable it almost becomes fashionable again. The band’s considerable melodic talents produced one of last year’s strongest rock albums, Picture You. Now, barely a year later, comes a more hushed, ambling set called Ambulance, which—despite its title—plays more like a leisurely night drive through some surreal, half-lit city (see: the wistful haze of “Through City Lights”).

Ambulance was apparently recorded live in a one-room studio in Stockholm. This disinterest in present-day recording techniques conveys another sense of timelessness. The songs, which anchor themselves around Christoffer Gunrup’s ocean-smooth murmur of a voice, are rich on improvisation. It’s risky to describe this stuff with the word prog—yes, the songs are lengthy and untied to verse-chorus pop structures, but it’d be a shame to obscure how warm the melodic instincts are. Songs like “Ambulance” and the lovely “Floating” drift along on sighing vocal harmonies, interlocking guitar ripples, and a thick undergrowth of strong but understated percussion. The lyrics are a mystery, but the discerning listener will catch hints of ghosts, of regret, of pastoral imagery.

All that Ambulance is missing, if anything, are the fiery instrumental passages and taut drama that gave Picture You its edge (“Fryshusfunk,” “Picture You”). Sleepy and settled, these songs are more likely to blend into one another, which is not such a bad thing when the arrangements are so strong. (The exception is “Blair Drager,” an ominous highlight that’s powered by trip-hop rhythms and a spy-music vibe.) The record remains a close cousin of Picture You, and with its comparatively brief length, it’s hard not to hear it as an encore as much as it is a follow-up. Surely the group has earned a round of applause.