Filed under: album, review | Tags: martyn clayton, still standing at your back door, taxi taxi!
Still Standing At Your Back Door •••½
Precociously talented teenagers can be annoying. Their self-confidence and feted family status often renders them unbearable company to anyone but blood relations; add this to the fact they make you feel both old and unaccomplished, and they can sometimes be difficult to love. Swedish twin sisters Miriam and Johanna Eriksson Berhan, aka Taxi Taxi!, may only be 19 years old but they’re a far less trying prospect. Long championed by Efterklang, and with a pair of acclaimed EPs already under their belts, their debut album Still Standing At Your Back Door arrives fully formed at an age when most young people with musical ambitions are only just advertising for bandmates in the music press. The Berhan sisters couldn’t sound any further removed from your typical effervescent teenage rabble-rousers full of energy and ideas but without the ability or direction to match. Instead, they are something of an intense pair with the distinct air of very old souls: there is something eerie about Taxi Taxi!, an oddness that is as intriguing as it is unsettling.
Discard immediately any thought of comparisons with their age-peers in the upbeat and definitely teenage Those Dancing Days. The Berhans’ Sweden sounds nothing like a youthful Stockholm endless summer night out, more a broodingly thoughtful extended stay in an isolated small town seeped in Lutheran reticence and full of deeply buried passions. Their lyrics are full of forests and their music frequently sounds like you have stumbled on an unexpected clearing in a densely wooded landscape. Like fellow Swedish sibs First Aid Kit, it’s a complexity that sits oddly with their youth. But many of these songs have been gestating over several years, the twins having played music together since the age of nine. Images of long nights locking themselves away in bedrooms from their peers year after year are difficult to escape, and the frequent obsession found in their words (as well as the stark intensity of the album cover shot) tends to give that picture added colour.
For all its melancholy thoughtfulness, Still Standing At Your Back Door is a passionate affair. The opening title track is striking in its complete disregard for what might be considered a ‘usual’ progression. It’s a slow burner, full of obsessional intent and as jaundiced as anything you are likely to hear this side of the Baltic Sea. What comes next, ‘More Childish Than In A Long Time’, has distant drums and faded harmonies, a gentle melodic acoustic strum, and a lyric that finds them claiming to be ready for marriage and kids, as at the same time it bemoans their tendency to childishness. Anyone who was ever in a hurry to grow up, or who even as a child found other children immature, will recognise its spirit. ‘The Same Side Of The Moon’ completes the opening trio of defiantly downbeat numbers, another haunting number that quietly screams about the impotence of a body that wants to break through the barriers of perception that keep a couple of people apart. If your words do not make sense you may as well be speaking another language, and the lyric cleverly switches to Swedish halfway through to emphasise the point. Suddenly they sound more assured, the vocal becomes less imploring and tentative.
The Hello Saferide echoing single ‘Old Big Trees’ comes as something of a relief, full of Scandinavian twee touches as the twins finally sound their age. Cymbals tinkle, melodies get whistled, and the urge to clap along as you bob your head is almost unbearable. ‘His Heart Or Mine’ is in a similar vein, with a gorgeous brass refrain lifting sweet vocal cadences to a beautifully succinct conclusion. The horns on the eccentric Latin swing shuffle of ‘The Ripest Fruit’ are more Tijuana than provincial Sweden, the sisters demonstrating they might actually have a sense of humour after all. Producer Johan Berthling makes his presence felt on ‘All I Think Of’ where a wall of sound is stripped back to its components to create an echoing rhythmic clatter over which a heart’s yearning gets uncomfortably spliced, creating something full of longing and uncomfortable beauty. The scene-setting, monumental piano plod of closing track ‘Mary’ (re-recorded from their 2006 eponymous EP) is lushly ornamented and affecting but fails to the extent that the vocal doesn’t quite match the ambition of the moment. It’s a complaint you could make throughout, but to do so might be being unnecessarily pedantic.
Nevertheless, Still Standing At Your Back Door leaves you wondering exactly what you have just been a party to. There is richness in the arrangements, real songwriting talent and depth throughout, and everything somehow hangs together beautifully. Yet despite the fact these songs will stay with you and make you want to return, there is a sense that something indefinable is missing. These talented teenagers are not difficult to love for all their undoubted musical oddity, but whether you find their flaws and obsessions a stumbling block or a source of endearment will be purely a matter of personal taste.
UK release date: 12/10/09; www.myspace.com/taxitaximusic
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