Chicago – In the spring of 2012, Arvid Öberg left his home in Lund, Sweden for a four month trip to Montreal. His experiences within the Canadian music scene prompted a series of self recorded demo tracks which he sent back to his fellow Above Orange band members in Sweden with the intention of inspiring a new style for his group along with a new album. The result was their debut EP “Unreal City”, a collection of six songs seeping with Western Country and Americana Folk intended for fireplace accompaniment on snowed in winter evenings.
The EP kicks off with the title track “Unreal City”, beginning with a steady sleigh bell tambourine rattle and lulling guitar overdubs that descend over the chords like spiraling snowflakes. Arvid’s voice recalls the wounded howls of Neil Young as he explores the, “unreal city, where your fortune sleeps”. “Better Days” feels like the country cousin of early Bruce Springsteen, as Arvid recounts the restlessness of hometown confinement.
With this debut EP, “Unreal City” doesn’t tread new water as much as it reflects its clear influences. While the tracks are gentle and inviting, there’s an inclination that the instrumentation feels more like a homage than a new home for Above Orange. The songs bleed in and out of each other, making them hard to distinguish individually mainly due to repetition of tempo and arrangement. This isn’t to say that the inspirations overshadow the originality, but it was hard to listen to each song without immediately connecting an obvious comparison.
One standout was “Chamber of Ours”, the coldest track on the album featuring ominous slide guitar twang and minimal production, forcing you to focus on Arvid’s lyrics of attachment to his new surroundings, with hollow promises like, “this place is all I have, can’t give you more”. “Chamber of Ours” plays out like an autumn version of Radiohead’s “The Tourist”, and gives the EP some range and distinction.
Artistic influences aside, there are two other persistent components that make “Unreal City” worthwhile. You can feel through Arvid’s lyrics how his time spent in a new environment seemed to awaken him, evident in the closing track “A Great Man’s Been Sleeping”, with lines of introspective reflections like, “A great man’s been sleeping, I guess he came alive in my mind”. Also, the tone of “Unreal City” does a great job emulating the vast landscapes and sunsets that Arvid must have experienced during his northern exposure. This is an honest debut of an EP that begs to be accompanied with warmth and coziness.