Guest Review: Cal Gibson / Sven Wunder / Natura Morta / Piano Piano

Cal Gibson is a seasoned journalist, whose credits include Muzik, Jockey Slut, IDJ, and The Face. As a musician Cal was previously a member of deep house quartet, Neon Heights, and now records as The Secret Soul Society – primarily for Paper Wave – while running his own imprint – Scruffy Soul Recordings.

Words by Cal Gibson aka The Secret Soul Society.

There are, of course, an infinitesimal number of ways to make great music: the scope being as wide and as limitless as the human imagination itself. It certainly can’t hurt, however, to have a cast list such as the one assembled for Sven Wunder’s strikingly beautiful third album, Natura Morta, which according to his Bandcamp page consists of – deep breath: 

9 violins, 4 violas, 3 cellos, 1 flute, 1 piano, 1 electric piano, 1 cembalo, 1 twelve-stringed guitar, 1 electric guitar, 1 trumpet, 1 flugelhorn, 1 tenor horn, 1 marimba, 1 electric bass, drums and percussion

Throw in the kitchen sink and Sven and his colleagues have pretty much got it nailed. And if the thought occurs: how the hell did a cult underground Swedish composer afford that little lot? Answer: the clue is in the word Swedish. You see the Swedish government, as ever a beacon of humanity and foresightedness, give out grants for this type of thing, as Sven previously explained around the time of his last LP:

‘Maybe it’s pretty unique for Sweden, I don’t know. But you can apply when you have the demo done and the songs written. You can send it in to the Arts Council and say, I want to release this, I would like to record strings, or I would like to press vinyl or something, and then you can get funding for that. They helped us very much.’

Now imagine sending a demo to the dullards in the UK government, for example, asking if they’ll pay to put some strings on it…not too difficult to imagine the response. Setting aside the ‘why can’t the rest of the world be as clued-up as Sweden’ digression, Natura Morta (‘Dead Nature’) sees Sven moving away from the geographically based excursions found on his first two long players – Turkish and Japanese vibes respectively – and into the realms of still life painting, in which the album’s compositions reflect upon and reflect back to the listener the investigatory nature of the finest art. Fuelled by the spirit of John Cameron, Alan Hawkshaw, Keith Mansfield, KPM and Bruton, Sven takes classic library music formulae and twists them gently into the present day, as melodies pile on top of melodies and melancholic chord progressions stumble sweetly around the studio floor searching for the door marked ‘wistful.’

The warm waves of summer loving that is the title track come bathed in a dreamy childhood nostalgia, all melting ice creams and dappled sunsets, as the guitar topline leads a gently ecstatic dance to the shoreline. One to wallow in over the next few months.

Recent single, Impasto, rides a low-slung bass motif, buoyed up again by string swells tugging at whatever’s left of your synapses. The horns slide in, shifty-eyed, up for trouble: the heist is going down and you’re right in the thick of it, gasping for breath and waiting for the cops to arrive.

Throughout the album the musicianship is quietly devastating, Sven’s friends and Stockholm’s finest laying down the good stuff with a relaxed, professional air that lets you know you’re in good hands. En Plein Air kicks things off with a spin around a flute-filled dancefloor for ageing romantics, then Memento Mori ramps up the beats and breaks into a sprint, swathed again in those aquatic strings, before Umber drops down into a faux-classical swoon that segues into more cinematic settings.

It’s easy to fall into pastiche, of course, traversing such well-worn territories – but Sven avoids the pitfalls by leaning into the quality and the passion inherent in the project: this album has labour of love stitched into its very veins. Come the end of the year and Natura Morta will be hanging around those album of the year lists without a doubt: a merry procession of finely-turned out musical snapshots, a love letter to the power of melody, a genuine delight.

You can order a copy of Sven Wunder`s Natura Morta directly from Piano Piano. 

You can check out Cal Gibson`s musical catalogue, as The Secret Soul Society, here and here. His Scruffy Soul Recordings can be found over on Beatport.

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