What do you do if trouble finds you? If you’re Sweden’s The Concretes, you roll with the punches, make lemonade out of lemons, and drink deeply from your country’s indie-pop well. After three EP’s, two studio albums, and a b-sides/rarities release, The Concretes were hit hard in 2006. Their instruments were all stolen outside New York’s Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review), then they had to cancel their American tour after lead singer Victoria Bergsman collapsed in Boston, and finally, only hours before performing on the BBC, Bergsman announced she was quitting the Stockholm octet (who she’d helped found). Very tempted to pack it all in, the remaining seven men and women instead produced Hey Trouble, a record that may not rank with their prior work, but is looks to keep them in the ever-growing Swedish music craze.
With Bergsman out, drummer Lisa Milberg largely took up vocals, with help from the other remaining charter Concrete, guitarist Maria Eriksson. Milberg’s voice may not be a match for the pitch-perfect Bergsman (that’s her on “Young Folks”, the hit single by the current top Swedish crossover act, Peter Bjorn and John), but they still glide upon that same catchy, airy breeze. And The Concretes have gone even more indie-pop with Hey Trouble, riding the sonic wave from Scandinavia that they helped to start, stepping back from some of the more alt-country tones on 2003’s The Concretes and 2006’s The Concretes In Colour.
The best tracks on Hey Trouble are exactly that: indie-pop gems, largely about sad subjects, and are both catchy and heart-felt, like the first single, “Kids”, as well as “A Whale’s Heart”, “Oh Boy”, and “Are You Prepared?” The Concretes unfortunately slip, the further they get away from that sound. Dreamy numbers like “Firewatch”, “Didion”, and “If We’re Lucky We Don’t Get There On Time” are nice, but don’t quite have enough substance to be more than atmosphere, while sadder songs like “Keep Yours” and “Oh No” trade away some of their sonic hook for a more emotional one. But those pieces are still good, unlike the slow and dragging “Souvenirs” and “Simple Song”.
Victoria Bergsman undoubtedly left her band in a lurch, when she moved on to greener Swedish-sound pastures (she recently appeared with Peter Bjorn and John on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and the same Bjorn is producing her upcoming solo project, Taken By Trees). The Concretes are not back up to full strength yet, but they’re moving on, in a new-but-not-distant indie-pop direction with Hey Trouble. Lisa Milberg may have sounded wistful for her and Maria Ericksson’s past on “Kids” when she says, “Music could really knock you over back then” and “Can we rewind to the part / Me on drums and you on guitar?”, but that isn’t to say the band ain’t moving forward: they’ve promised to hire another drummer when they go on tour, so Milberg doesn’t have to do both, and “to steer clear of any Phil Collins jokes.”