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Current concise reviews of the albums by adult alternative, contemporary, and crossover artists. Images of album artwork and links to both internet-based resources are always included. Click on the title to view the article.

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Panamarenko CD Cover
Image © Exergy Music 2002

Asa Ecklund (lead vocals)
(also: acoustic guitar, flute, thermin)
Image © Exergy Music 2002

Pineforest Crunch are a four-piece pop group from Sweden, comprising the lovely Asa Eklund (vocals and various other instruments), Olle Soderstrom (guitars), Mats Lundgren (basses and keyboards) and Matthias Ollson (percussion). The band are by no means a full-time affair--each band member has other projects, and some readers will certainly be aware of Matthias’ work with legendary progressive band Anglagard and also White Willow (review).Their latest recording is entitled Panamarenko (Exergy Music (Sweden) 005, 2002).

Asa has a very appealing, wistful voice, usually placed high in the mix. Though she sings in English, her Swedish accent is charmingly strong and occasionally there is even a suggestion of Bjork in her phrasing. The basic band set up of acoustic (or jangly electric) guitar, bass and drums, are augmented by lush keyboards--including monophonic synths and mellotron--giving the songs both colour and character. Overall, the album has a very American feel, confirmed by the band on the brief, humorous sleeve notes. The songs themselves are bright, though the production has some chill in it--an interesting combination of Los Angeles and Stockholm. In fact, the faint air of melancholy often to be found on music from the Scandinavian Countries can be found here, even in the up-tempo songs.

The album itself features eleven short tracks with a runningtime of 40 minutes, but there is no feeling that the listener has been short changed. "Situation Endless" sets the scene for the rest of the album. A sweet Phil Spector-like arrangement with plenty of acoustic guitar and string sounds, introduces a lovely song with a soaring chorus and Asa’s vocals high in the mix. "Queen of the Nineties" features some very retro synth sounds combining with Olle’s acoustic guitar, another killer chorus, and some lovely layered vocals towards the end of the song.

"College Radio Listeners" has hit single written all over it, an ironic, up-tempo indie-rock number. "Slowly" is a little more grungy, but with another memorable chorus. The acoustic guitar intro of "Wake Up" suggests Quecia (review), but the 'treated' vocals soon dispel this, giving the track a rather sinister, icy feel, until a lovely piano solo lifts it. "Innocent" is another delightful, joyful song (though it has a twist in the tale), with effective guitar and mellotron urging it along.

"Romantic Strings" is something of a departure. Mellotron and a combination of male and female vocals gives an impression of a lush 40s ballad--played on a 40s gramophone (even down to the crackles). There is definitely a feeling of Bjork about this, and it’s a shock to the system after the polished pop of preceding tracks. "Car Crash" opens with some swirling synth and guitar before a slightly chilling song with another infectious chorus.

"Coronation" has a drum and bass influenced verse, leading into an uplifting, synth led chorus, with Asa’s voice soaring above the instrumentation--certainly an album highlight. Upfront synth also dominates "Leave it all behind," a quirky song with a hint of reggae, once again making interesting use of male vocals. "Happy Valentine" is a gentle closer, dominated by picked acoustic and steel guitars.

Though hardly a substantial piece of work, this is something of a little gem: quirky, edgy pop music of the highest quality.--Stephen Lambe

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