Quite where the title of Les Big Byrd’s fourth studio album came from remains mysterious even to the band’s frontman, Jocke Åhlund. You might speculate, though, that it’s a neat encapsulation of a record that is unafraid to deal in contradictions, that finds room both for glittering pop and for stormy atmosphere, and that doesn’t just showcase the thrillingly ambitious psych-rock sound that we’ve come to expect from the group by now; it pushes it forward, into new and more daring territory. After their third album, Eternal Light Brigade, took four years to follow on from 2018’s mission statement Iran Iraq IKEA, Åhlund was determined that this time, the Stockholm rockers would hit the ground running, swiftly returning to the studio for another album that maintains the momentum and energy of Eternal Light Brigade whilst finding room to wander down sonic avenues all its own.
“I wanted to stay inside that bubble of creativity,” explains Åhlund, a legendary figure in the Swedish capital’s rock scene who’s also played in Caesars, Smile and Teddybears and has collaborated with everybody from Chrissie Hynde, Giorgio Moroder to Sonic Boom and Anton Newcombe. “I wanted to maintain a mood from start to finish.” Key to that was a new-found sense of harmony in the band, one that was birthed during the sessions for Eternal Light Brigade.
Whereas the gestation process of some of the early releases from the band often saw creative tension stifle their rate of return, both within the group and between band and producer, their last album saw them decamp to Visby on the Baltic island of Gotland, putting clear blue water between themselves and the distractions of home, and allowing them to enjoy each other’s company in a pressure-free environment. “We’re spending less time bickering and fussing about shit!” Åhlund confirms happily. “It’s been more of a case of us all rowing the boat in the same direction, rather than pulling away from each other.”
They headed back to Visby’s Sandkvie Studio to cut tracks for Diamonds, Rhinestones and Hard Rain, with Åhlund and fellow founder member Frans Johansson joined by Olsson and drummer Nino Keller. With Åhlund bringing in the basis for the songs and the rest of the band helping to shape and flesh them out, musical trends began to appear, ones that would come to define the most varied record of the group’s career. Those in thrall to the spacier and more expansive side of the band’s output to date will find that itch scratched by epic psych slow-burners like ten-minute opener ‘Mareld’ and the monumental, Spiritualized-esque instrumental ‘Lycka Till På Färden’.
But there is space, as well, for the other side of Les Big Byrd, the one driven by hooks and melody, alive in songs like the title track and ’Curved Light’, which take the sixties psych-rock tradition and tighten the screws on it, making it sharper, leaner, catcher. Underpinning everything, meanwhile, is a thick sense of atmosphere, a beguiling, evocative mood that suggests that Åhlund has been successful in his quest to keep up a certain feeling throughout the record.
Diamonds, Rhinestones and Hard Rain features lyrics and song titles in both Swedish and English, but the language most crucial to it is its musical one, created by Åhlund and Johansson when they formed the band in 2011 and nurtured lovingly since, especially since the former took back control of the production side of things on Eternal Light Brigade. Closer ‘The Night Bus’ is an especially striking demonstration of just how far Les Big Byrd have come over the course of the past decade or so; an electrifying twelve-minute odyssey that buzzes with nocturnal energy, bringing in swells of brass, twinkling pianos and sparkling synths. It is the sound of this most exhilaratingly adventurous of bands continuing to obliterate their boundaries.
“Of course everything that influences us pours into a kind of pool to draw inspiration from,” Åhlund explains. “But hopefully, what comes out of it is something that’s unique to us. So many bands around seem hung up on staying in one lane – like just being “psychedelic”, or whatever that’s just formulaic, and not that’s not at all interesting to me. We are trying to create something personal that means something to us. And I hope we’ve achieved it.”