Sacred Dreams by Josefin Ohrn + The Liberators

Release date: April 26, 2019
Label: Rocket Recordings

Sacred Dreams is the first album by Josefin Ohrn + The Liberators since their move from Stockholm to London and was largely recorded at Press Play Studios run by Andy Ramsay of Stereolab, who also produced and performed on the album, along with a new bunch of Liberators, including Maki of Go Team and Ben Ellis, who has previously worked with Iggy Pop and Swervedriver. Not surprisingly, themes of change and travel are present throughout the album, which also contains a few fresh sonic adventures.

Like any self-respecting Echoes And Dust writer, I was aware of Öhrn and the bands’ previous work as they are on Rocket Recordings, whose roster is pretty much all required listening. I hadn’t, though, up till now really listened to full albums. I knew that would change once I heard lead out single ‘Desire’. Darker and bolder than anything they have recorded before ‘Desire’ is full on electro-filth, with staccato drums and throbbing bass, like Goldfrapp at their most confrontationally sexy. During the verses Öhrn sings in French, a tactic she’s employed previously on ‘Rainbow Lollipop’ for 2016’s Mirage, but where that was all faux naïf tease, and deliberately recalled Serge Gainsbourg, this is modern, urgent and more ambitious. It leads you to believe the band are ready to stage a full-on assault on the dancefloor, but actually the rest of album largely returns to more familiar territory.

 

The album starts brilliantly with ‘Baby Come On’, a jaunty rhythm over which Öhrn purrs a Piney Gurr-esque country-pop vocal and then, startlingly, vintage synths surge in, bringing on the ragged ghost of Lieutenant Pigeon and you realise you’re listening to a perky, younger sister of Mouldy Old Dough! Fabulous! The pace then drops unexpectedly for the winsome ‘Caramel Head’, and the band return to calmer, more traditional psych sounds. Multi-tracked vocals echo through your mind like a mellow trip, over a guitar line that adds an ornate ‘As Tears Go By’ vibe. ‘Desire’ then comes in to shatter the reveries, and I guess those three opening tracks encompass the stylistic range of the remainder of Sacred Dreams – from poppy, through trippy, to electronica.

‘Feel the Sun’ is more gauzy psych, with sun dappled guitar lines and Josefin’s vocals piled on like stoned angels. It has a blissed out Screamadelica feel and hits the sweet spot between coming up and coming down. Surprisingly though, not all the more expected space-rock grooves are particularly convincing. There is a danger of the band so successfully interpreting their more hippyish, trippy influences that songs can become no more than a wobbly under strength echo of greatness, and on ‘Floating Away’ the title says it all. It has such a languid Cowboy Junkies vibe that it’s barely there, it’s incredibly pretty, but feels lifeless, it’s ennui bordering on cliche.

More lively and enjoyable is ‘Hey Little Boy’, fuzzy and 60’s girl group sweet, pure Jesus and Mary Chain style, it is simple but with a real ear worm guitar line that always makes me prick up my ears. ‘I Can Feel It’ (from which the album gets its title) returns to harder beats and reminds me of Madonna’s late 90’s singles circa ‘Ray of Light’, or even ‘Beautiful Stranger’. Again, lyrically it’s bordering on druggy cliche, but it has enough about it to make you want to surrender to its charms as Josefin’s unusually high, pure singing slides beguiling about your head. Experienced in a club this one has the potential to be absolutely huge.

Now, imagine if the melody of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ stopped playing with knives in the corner of the room and went out for ice cream and a snooze on the beach and you have ‘Let It Come’. That’s probably overstating its credentials, but it’s an amusing ditty none the less. Much, much better is the languid, almost baggy ‘New Horizons’ – which lopes and swings with an effortless cool. It’s a song that is subtle and underplayed whilst still gleefully bursting with possibilities, and as such may really be the cornerstone of the album.

‘Only Lovers’ has ornate, vaguely gothic stylings, as Josefin croons “danger, danger, my dark angel“. It briefly becomes Doors-y, sparse yet heavy, though it never really ramps up the tension and is over too quickly, whilst closing number ‘Whatever You Want’ rides in on a perky afrobeat guitar line and a gentle, funky, noodling bass line, but again fails to really develop into anything more than a groove, before dissipating. These last two tracks, in particular, I find particularly frustrating – the ideas are there, but there seems a reticence about stretching out, exploring further once a dreamy mood has been set.

About half of this album is great, and it is the half of the album that moves away from psychedelic rock and into dancier and poppier songs. Josefin Ohrn + The Liberators have made a bold move geographically, now it’s time to really break away from their musical past and discover new sounds. It’s time to live up to their names and liberate themselves. If they do I think a sparkling future awaits. For now Sacred Dreams is a pretty good first step and a solid base camp.

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