REVIEW: With “Wild Hxmans,” Christian Kjellvander expands strong catalog and breaks new ground


The Swedish faces of Americana may belong to the angel-voiced young ladies of First Aid Kit, but Christian Kjellvander stands at the heart of the Scandinavian Americana scene. A fixture since the mid ’90s, when he released the outstanding low-fi country rock album For Sale By Owner as a member of the Loosegoats, Kjellvander has consistently made strong records. Wild Hxmans (Tapete) adds to Kjellvander’s growing catalog of excellent titles and breaks new ground for the artist.

Kjellvander’s music benefits from the meeting of cultures. Born in Sweden, his family moved to the Seattle area when he six. He absorbed the cultural and musical milieu, including country and alternative music. In Kjellvander’s songs, the sonic landscapes of American alternative and country-rock music meet the physical and cultural landscapes of Sweden, with unexpected and stunning results.

Critics often write about the quality of and emotion in Kjellvander’s voice, comparing it to singers as different as Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave. There’s something magically placeless about Kjellvander’s inflections, as though his voice comes from everywhere and nowhere. Despite stylistic similarities, a subtle hint in Kjellvander’s voice, unidentifiable, makes him, ultimately, recognizable only as himself.

While Kjellvander has long used the power of his voice to channel Americana through from his unique perspective, Wild Hxmans adds new elements to the artist’s palette. Recognized as a “dark” album, Wild Hxmans reflects strains of music popular in Scandinavia. Aptly, “Welcome to Northeim,” though it doesn’t get nearly so heavy, has a metal-like ominousness. Kjellvander is incorporating sounds from new genres, and he’s doing it in ways that aren’t obvious.

Wild Hxmans does not make for an easy listen. Although a full-length album, it contains only seven songs, ranging from 4:29 to 9:47. The length of the songs requires patience from the listener. Topically as well as sonically dark, the album gets into a lot of difficult emotional territory. With songs like the beautiful and sensitive “Curtain Maker,” though Kjellvander makes Wild Hxmans more than worth than the effort to listen.

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