It’s not unusual for best friends to form bands, and Grapell co-founders Emil Erstrand and Nils Nygårdh have been friends and bandmates since they were teenagers. What is unusual, though, is for that chemistry to translate so wholly into a timeless sound, a style so fully-formed it feels borne from a lifetime of collaboration.
The Swedish duo’s newest EP, Love Chamber, does just that, re-introducing the band with a unique soul that walks a perfect tightrope between simplicity and sophistication. Give it even a passive listen and the vivid sense of romance proves hard to ignore. Dig a little deeper though, and you find more of love’s complexity, the tug-o-war between a person’s head and his heart.
The road to the Love Chamber EP was a long one: Erstrand and Nygårdh formed their first band, Good Morning June, in high school. Describing it in hindsight as “five guys who couldn’t agree on anything” they moved on to form Grapell, which started as a multi-piece outfit before intimately paring down to the two friends working as a duo. They enlisted other talented cohorts as they needed to, but the songwriting and vision is now theirs alone. Love Chamber will undoubtedly be the band’s introduction to most listeners, but it’s important to note the leap they’ve made here, as there is a richness to Love Chamber that is harder to find in their previous work. Where Grapell’s earlier recordings had an appealing mystery, there was an insular, inward-facing sense to songs like “White Fox in the Snow” and “Shaping My Love.” The interplay between rhythm and melody was there, but on Love Chamber they face squarely outward, writing mass-appeal songs that add intoxicating layers without scarifying the austere, economical side of their music.
From the opening notes of “Every Time…” — a horn section echoing a gorgeous harmony — it’s clear that Grapell’s strongest weapon is how immersive and complete their sound is. Like a movie’s opening scene, it establishes their world in an instant. Erstrand’s first line is “Mind and body in perfect symmetry”, and after just those few seconds you can feel it. You’re there. Lead single “Arrow” has not-one-but-two hypnotic hooks, and pulls no punches from this cinematic quality. Yes, there are some 60’s and 70’s palettes that inspire Grapell, but “Arrow” is veritable primer on how to summon those ideas in a firmly modern way. There’s a motion to it, a buoyant magic that transports you to a first kiss, a loaded glance, or a long walk home at dawn. In fact, every some on Love Chamber has that unifying feel — you can get lost in it, you can step into its world and tune out the one you’re in.
Love Chamber’s arrangements are dynamic and bright, unique from song to song, but they also stick together perfectly to form a cohesive whole. The desire for that cohesion helped guide the duo’s decision to make a third EP instead of rushing toward an album. Erstrand explains. “An EP is much easier to consume, and you want a theme to be cohesive. The previous EPs were de facto best-ofs, where we made a lot of songs and picked the songs we liked best. These were made during one focused period of time.” Nygårdh describes, “here, we figured out the sounds and songs we wanted.” Indeed, their whole approach to songwriting changed, as they veered away from electronic elements and wrote in the studio, always with live instrumentation. The additions made by Many Voices Speak (guest vocals), Björn Arkö (saxophone), Victor Brodin (trumpet), Jonas Holmedal (bass) and Daniel Westin (keys) are keenly felt, and they enrich Erstrand and Nygårdh’s vision. In particular, Arkö’s mark is indelible; his saxophone style is deeply vocal, spinning melodies meant to linger and hum, to hook you like a chorus without saying a word. It is remarkable, and it elevates just how vivid Love Chamber is as a collection.
This is what the greats do, right? They make a universal story personal, and a personal one relatable. They take something colossal and inscrutable and give it a sense of specificity and ease. The thoughts you think and the movement in your hips aligns. So it is with Love Chamber — “mind and body in perfect symmetry”, just as Erstrand sings it.