In ‘Krautrocksampler’, Julian Cope’s rousing history of the perceived German experimental music scene of the late 20th century, he writes that whereas many German musicians in the 1960s rejected the invading American trend for rock’n’roll, the Scandinavians “broke from their own peaceful but psychotic ways and developed a love for American cars, street gangs and the most primitive music going”*. Several decades later, esoteric Swedes Fontän have revisited that pivotal moment of change and what could have been with Wintherhwila. Despite its minimal motorik leanings and sounding easily at home between Zuckerzeit and Musik von Harmonia, Jesper Jarold and Johan Melin have created far more than just a cross-Baltic facsimile of the Teutonic classics. The erstwhile “peaceful but psychotic way” lives on at the heart of this album, beating with a genre-hopping verve that blends krautrock with King Crimson, Balearic comedowns with a rehabilitated Japan having realised the error of their excesses, and the verdant aura of ingenuity.
It’s quite possible that more than once during Wintherhwila, you’ll experience a sort of musical déjà vu, but it’s never a sense that lingers – the introduction of opening track ‘Backustugu’ seeps with the subtle drone of a band like Human Bell before relinquishing into a protracted Ibizan swoon, while ‘…You Too’ gasps like the breath being robotically sucked from the breast of Peter Broderick’s Home and forged into a hybrid Ze Records/Can beast. For the most part, their sound is resoundingly inhuman – amongst clinical, searingly interwoven cold synth hooks and post punk basslines, occasionally the moist panting of human breath makes itself audible, but it’s usually at the behest of the chasing electronic beast and automaton chanting vocals. Much like the record’s mellifluous title, the few sung parts seem to exist more for the purpose of anodyne textural smoothness over the indomitable beats than for any poetic value.
But where Wintherhwila really comes into its own is with a series of post punk and progressive riffs completely incongruous to their minimal krautrock backing. Back when Franz Ferdinand were mouthing off citing Edinburgh’s Fire Engines as an influence circa their debut, they should have been playing the kind of dramatic post punk hook that underpins ‘Early Morning’, eventually burgeoning into an almost obscenely indulgent electric guitar solo that twists merry hell out of each note in its crescendo. At times, the prog solos can zone out a little, but ‘Neanderthaler’ offers the best example of Fontän at their hybrid restrained best, starting with a lachrymose drone reminiscent of Earth’s ‘Engine to Ruin’, then the warped interchanging and echoing sibling of Cluster’s ‘Caramel’ over an emboldening Fujiya and Miyagi kraut-pop bass line, before a reluctant showhorse of a simple guitar line takes over the whole song – it only makes an appearance twice, but in the race run between different parts, the strength of that one simple hook is enough to make you dye your hair in its team colours, its Pink Floyd meets Steely Dan bent inspiring pure, craving, physical addiction to hearing it again. Granted, such a set of comparisons might make Wintherhwila sound at best of niche interest, and at worst an excuse to shoehorn in every corner of Jarold and Melin’s record collection, but for them to buck a trend over forty years too late yet still sound inventive and beguiling is surely grounds for Fontän to warrant a chapter in the inevitable hot blooded tribute to the ever surprising and delighting Swedish music scene of the early 21st century.
* Rough translation from the German. The book’s no longer available in English, weirdly.