Tag Archives: Passport Approved

How Swede It Is

I’ve always had an affinity for Swedish things. My Scandophilia (a word?) is second only to my Anglophilia when it comes to music, and some of my favorite hockey players through the years have also been Swedes. The New York Rangers were among the first to import Swedes into their lineup in the Seventies, with Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg. Borje Salming, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, was probably the first big-name Swede in the NHL and the first named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, but Nilsson and Hedberg were part of that first wave of smooth, highly-skilled Swedes that started in earnest in about 1978. (Hedberg is currently the head European scout for the Rangers.) The second wave, in the ‘80s, brought one of my absolute favorite Rangers of all time, Jan Erixon, whose son Tim – who was actually born in New York when Jan was a Ranger – was also a Ranger for a very brief time and is now with the Penguins. Of course, since 2005 we have been blessed to have the King, Henrik Lundqvist, on our roster. His teammates joke that he’s “The Most Interesting Man in the World” (referencing the over-the-top Dos XX spokes-icon). Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy tends to add a “[SWOON]” when writing about some typically superlative Lundqvist activity, be it a mind-bending save or a striking black-and-white photo spread of Henrik in his underwear shilling for his brand Bread and Boxers. The man is an amazing athlete, a humanitarian, and singularly gorgeous (although he is Henrik’s identical twin, Joel Lundqvist somehow lacks his brother’s sparkle). Even Mike Milbury, who rarely has a nice word to say about anyone, is always gushing about Henrik’s good looks and also his prodigious talent.

But handsome and skilled hockey players aren’t the only bounties from Sweden. After the UK and (arguably) the US, my favorite music comes from north of 50 degrees latitude. From the grandparents of Swedish pop music, Abba, and Blue Swede (with jaw-droppingly stunning lead singer Björn Skifs [what a name!], who informed my taste in men for many, many years despite favoring Robin Hood-esque doublets and stretch pants) in the 1970s, to the glamorous Roxette in the 1990s (whose enduring ballad “Listen to your Heart” was covered by Belgian dance group DHT as recently as 2005), to the ubiquitous Ace of Base’s “The Sign” in the ‘90s, to the current crop of fantastic Swedes, Danes and Norwegians (more on those in a minute) that appear prominently on Passport Approved’s weekly playlists, Scandinavian performers have been at the forefront of producing charming, catchy and eminently listenable pop music. And even though they’re not Scandinavian, let’s throw in Finns and Icelanders (is that what you call folks from Iceland?) for good measure.

My beloved Passport Approved features Scandinavian artists prominently on its weekly playlists. A sampling of recent artists, all of which are worth checking out  (if you CAN, that is, given the unavailability of certain music from unsigned artists, as I complained about in my 6/2 blog post [“Great Expectations”]): Matt Cronert, Mathias Melo and Ruh from Sweden; the duo Alfred Hall from Norway; Goblins and JJ (who has a unique deep, resonant voice that touches you to your soul and is currently unavailable for download on U.S. iTunes) from Denmark; ruby-throated Katéa from Finland (check out the anthemic “That Ain’t Love” for an intro to her work, which, as I discovered today, actually IS currently available for download on iTunes); and Kaleo, whose “All the Pretty Girls” is reminiscent of Bon Iver but carries a shimmery Icelandic sheen. Twenty-two-year-old Ásgeir is another impressive Icelandic artist; the lyrics to the songs on his recent album In the Silence were written by his father, an Icelandic poet, and translated into English with the help of American ex-pat songwriter John Grant.

My friend Carl is a Swedish lawyer but I think he would much rather be a DJ, following in the shoes of top (Swedish) DJs and producers like Tiesto, Avicii, Teddybears and Swedish House Mafia. He always shares music with me via Spotify but I treasure the Swedish pop and rock collections he made for me when we discovered our shared love of music. They feature artists like Tough Alliance, Kent, the Mary Onettes and Olle Ljungström (I actually bought one of his CDs in Carl’s favorite record store when I was in Stockholm), as well as Swedish performers who’ve made some inroads into the North American music scene, like Peter, Bjorn and John, the Caesars, Jens Lekman, Lykke Li, the Hives, the Shout Out Louds and El Perro del Mar.

One of my all-time favorite Swedish bands is the Sounds, whose song “Living in America” has the complete opposite message of James Browns’ “Living in America” (or any patriotic country songs with a similar name), sort of more along the lines of Black 47’s “Livin’ in America”, where young folks from other nations may appreciate the USA for certain things but are glad to NOT be American. It was recently used as the theme song for a very silly sitcom called “Welcome to Sweden”, which was executive produced by Amy Poehler as a vehicle for her wide-eyed brother Greg, a former lawyer who moved to Sweden to live with his girlfriend, and features classy Swedish actress Lena Olin and her impressive cheekbones. I believe it’s coming back to American TV this month. I confess I thought it tried a little too hard to be funny, but maybe it will find its footing in Season Two. A lot of it is in Swedish with English subtitles, and it’s actually shown in Sweden with Swedish subtitles for the English-language parts, although most Swedish folks speak English quite well. In fact, when we visited Sweden, we had no problem watching a marathon of the UK version of “Jackass” on TV.

My dream vacation to Scandinavia (well, we never made it to Norway, but Denmark and Sweden, anyway) became a reality in the summer of 2009, and it was made even better by an opportunity to visit my friend Carl and his family. He was kind enough to let us stay in his centrally located apartment in the city, and then entertained us at his family’s vacation home on an island in the Archipelago, an idyllic grouping of green, untamed islands off the eastern coast only accessible by boat.

All in all, our trip to Denmark and Sweden was probably the best vacation I ever had. It was as I’d always imagined it would be: the people were good-looking, the systems worked, there was natural and manmade beauty at every turn. Even the weather cooperated (it was the first two weeks of July, after all, which are probably the best two weeks of the year weather-wise), and the sunsets were breathtaking, even though it never got completely dark at night.

I have found the Swedish people I have met to be exceedingly polite, unpretentiously bright and very droll, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t also find many of them to be extremely attractive! When we were on the train from Gothenburg to Stockholm, there was a derailment and everyone had to get off the train and wait for a new one to come. Coming from New York, I was so impressed by how calm and even-tempered the local residents were when faced with this travel inconvenience. No one lost their temper, or yelled, or threw things like they probably would in NYC. Folks were eager to help the non-Swedish speakers when the explanations and instructions came over the loudspeakers. Even Swedish dogs – which are allowed everywhere – seem to be happy and well-behaved!

Sweden has so much more to offer than IKEA and little savory meatballs!

Great Expectations

Even a week later, I’m still a little too numb to do a thoughtful post-mortem of the Rangers’ season but please permit me a few words: It’s times like these when I say to myself, “I think I’m done with hockey. I don’t ENJOY it.” I mean, sometimes I enjoy it very much, but the times I don’t tend to outweigh the times I do, year after year.

Perhaps the end of the Rangers’ quest for the Stanley Cup this year is more disappointing because (a) we had such high expectations and (b) we felt that this was their last best chance at the championship, that the window of excellence was closing. It’s a fact of life that the greater the expectations, the greater the disappointment when they’re not met.

This was a fantastic year – a season where they did pretty much everything right and had everything exactly the way they wanted it, even down to that last game. And yet – in keeping with a season-long tendency, especially where scoring goals was concerned – they blew it. They blew the glorious opportunity that their own hard work and dedication had earned for them.

How? Why? We will never know, because no one on the team will ever make excuses and the analysts and pundits don’t really know – they’re just speculating with the rest of us. Tampa played the game they needed to play; the Rangers did not. Tampa earned the right to win; the Rangers did not. But with that failed performance – geez, it was down to 20 freakin’ minutes! – went the entire charmed season. It’s an absolute mystery to me. After all they went through this season, they somehow didn’t seem to want it enough when it really counted. Where were all the big game players? Aside from Henrik – who admittedly looked shaky on the first Tampa goal but certainly couldn’t be blamed for the loss as he was by far the best Ranger on the ice – the rest of the team was tentative, a step slow, and looked like they were playing scared, frankly, instead of like men possessed of a will to win at all costs. As annoying as I find Pierre Maguire, he may have had a point when he said the Rangers were “on their heels” (which is ironic given that their captain Ryan McDonagh had been playing on a broken foot).

Sometimes I wish I could change history. Oh, well. Nothing to do but load up again for next year.

With the end of hockey season comes summer (in some years earlier than others), which is when I finally emerge from my house (my hermitlike tendencies have been hinted at in prior blog posts but further exploration of this issue will need to wait for another day) and enjoy the weather and my present location at the beach. And that is the absolute best time to discover and assemble as much new music as I possibly can.

Unlike hockey, music – my OTHER obsession – NEVER disappoints me or brings me anything less than joy, although for years I was frustrated at the paucity of new musical offerings. I’m sure new artists were always out there — I just didn’t know where or how to find them.  After the ground-breaking Long Island radio station WLIR went away in the 1990s, there was never another terrestrial radio station that consistently played the type and variety of music I preferred – i.e., NEW STUFF that wasn’t Billboard Top 40 or hip-hop, mixed with just a soupcon of oldies-but-goodies when the moment called for it. Within the last year or so, I discovered public radio station WFUV.  I believe this corresponded with a strengthening of their signal and a shifting of their format to more widely popular music rather than specialty “public radio” shows, but WFUV has become my car and home radio station of choice. I enjoy the mix of old and new music, even though, in my opinion they play way too much Bruce Springsteen and not nearly enough artists from the U.K. and the rest of Europe (although WFUV has introduced me to some amazing international artists, such as Icelandic singer-songwriter Aésgir and Irish crooner Hozier). I also suspect Paul Simon might be a “strings-attached” sustaining member of the station, because they play at least one Paul Simon song a day and Paul Simon hasn’t been relevant since the 1980s! He must be paying someone!

When I am on the computer, I listen almost exclusively to a station from the “other” Long Beach – in Orange County, California – called Indie 103.1 [www.indie1031.com]. According to its Wikipedia page, “The first two songs to play were The Ramones ‘We Want The Airwaves’ and The Clash’s ‘This Is Radio Clash’ followed by a list of new songs that had never seen commercial airplay before, setting the tone for what would become a musically adventurous and rebellious radio station.” A format after my own heart!

I used to be more obsessed with Indie 103.1 when I first discovered it circa 2005. They had shows by Steve Jones (“Jonesy’s Jukebox”, which featured the inimitable ramblings and eclectic spin selections by the erstwhile Sex Pistols guitarist) and Henry Rollins (“Harmony in My Head,” which title he took from a Buzzcocks’ song and which, unsurprisingly, highlighted punk music of all ilks but also threw in some poetry and rare musical nuggets, as Mr. Rollins is wont to do). Now the station is Internet-only, and there are really only two weekly shows I catch on a regular basis: “The Lopsided World of L”, which features old-timey rock DJ Jonathan L. (and his sexy-voiced German wife Gaby) broadcasting modern-day pirate radio from Berlin, Germany, my only source for on-air prog rock and a weekly dose of Joan Jett; and (other than my friend Carl from Sweden) my absolute favorite source of all emerging and independent pop and alternative music from literally all over the world, “Passport Approved”.  I am always recommending it to friends, so I’d like to use my blog to give it a more public plug.

“Passport Approved” is created, produced and hosted by Sat Bisla, who started his career as an A&R guy and who still spends his life unearthing new talent – except now he shares it directly with the hungry listening public rather than waiting until what’s left of the recording industry finds and signs the up-and-coming artists in more traditional ways. In any given week, his musical choices range geographically from Canada to South Africa, from New Zealand to Scandinavia. He was one of the first people to play artists like Adele, and Arctic Monkeys, and Lily Allen, and that’s just the A’s!!

Even if I miss the 12-2 p.m. slot (NY time) on Indie 103.1 on Saturdays, there’s the “Passport Approved” website  [www.passportapproved.com], where you can stream playlists from the current and past few weeks any time you want.  I always expect to hear at least 2 to 3 absolutely fantastic songs per show that I’ve never heard before and I am never let down. This week I enjoyed quite a few first-time songs, including Huntar (U.K.), “Love I Know”; Broken Back (France), “Happiest Man on Earth”; and Miamigo (U.K.), “Hard to Love”. Miamigo has another song called “Opinions” that I first – and only – heard on “Passport Approved”. Unfortunately, Miamigo remains unsigned at the moment (which I cannot understand because they are excellent), so their music is evidently not available for purchase in this country.

Here’s where I’m Internet-stupid and uninitiated as to alternate ways to access (and ultimately purchase) new music. There is probably a way I can download an artist’s music from their Facebook page or something – I’m certain they’re seeking to promote their music, especially to listeners in the U.S. – but in the past when I’ve tried to do that, I get error messages that say, “This song is not available for download in your region” or some such cockblock language. I frequently have the same issue with songs my aforementioned friend Carl sends me through Spotify. Why does this happen? Why can’t all music be internationally available? I thought the Internet was intended to obliterate borders to bring the world closer!

So while I wait for a worldwide music delivery system, my go-to source for the best and newest pop music from all over the planet will always be “Passport Approved”.  Unlike certain other things in my life, it never disappoints!