As Taken By Trees, Victoria Bergsman, the guest vocals on Swedish indie-pop sensation Peter Bjorn and John’s hit single, “Young Folks”, has a pretty but poorly-balanced and one-note solo debut in Open Field. That Bergsman has an outstanding, melodic, touching voice is proven on Open Field, but between her work on “Young Folks” and as the former lead singer of another Swedish dream-pop outfit, The Concretes, that really wasn’t in question. The question was, could she build enough around it as a solo artist, and the answer, unfortunately, is not quite.
Bergsman left The Concretes, the band she co-founded and been with for over a decade, in July of last year (only a couple of months after the band had had all their equipment stolen in New York, and only a few hours prior to them taping a live appearance on the BBC). While The Concretes eventually pulled together to create Hey Trouble (QRO Review), Bergsman toured with Peter Bjorn and John, before returning to Sweden to record Open Field, with Björn Yttling producing. After 2006’s stupendous The Concretes In Colour, the absence of Bergsman’s vocals was noticeable on the more-of-a-regrouping-effort Hey Trouble, but those vocals were about all she brought to Open Field.
Considering Bergsman had worked on such upbeat material with The Concretes and Peter Bjorn and John, it comes as quite a surprise that she’s so thoroughly downbeat as Taken By Trees. Virtually ever song comes off as sad, even the kind of happy ones. Bergsman vocals are as strong as they’ve ever been, but, consistently being used for the same effect, they come off as repetitive, especially as the instrumentation on Open Field is so stripped-down. And Yttling’s producing leaves something to be desired, as he seems to overdo Bergsman’s vocals, making them a bit preachy and dragging at times.
Open Field is strongest when it attempts more of an up-tempo irony, such as with the fun single “Lost And Found”, the cute preceding string strum-pick “Sunshine Lady”, and the catchier “Julia”. There are also a number of nice, but ultimately forgettable sad pieces, like opener “Tell Me” and later tracks “Hours Pass Like Centuries” and “Too Young”. Then there are the boring, rather banal songs, where the over-emphasis on Bergsman’s vocals really begins to wear, such as the folksy “The Legend”, the twinkling “Only Yesterday” and the xylophone-like closer, “Cedar Trees”. And the record’s eponymous track is a strings instrumental, which reads like something out of Disney’s Fantasia.
Lately, Sweden’s been the biggest thing on the indie scene since Canada, and in some ways The Concretes just peaked before their time. Or maybe Victoria Bergsman let her PB&J success go to her head. Whatever it was, she still certainly doesn’t sound like a happy camper as Taken By Trees. Luckily, her wonderful voice has remained intact. Unluckily, on Open Field, she hasn’t yet found the variety or accompaniment to go with it.