My first Swedish winter was not going well. Granted, I’d gone from unemployed to working as a hospital cleaner, but the suburban Uppsala roads were dark and icy, and I kept falling off my bicycle.
I was your typical Sweden amateur, lulled senseless by a fragrant summer that had seemed to go on forever.
But now I wanted to assassinate December, to quote Teenage Fanclub. The darkness seemed permanent, the summer a hoax.
What was I even doing here? Sure, I had some Swedish friends and was keen to learn a new language. But I was here by choice – a choice that looked ridiculous in the increasingly cold light of day. I was living in a soulless student dorm but I wasn’t a student. And this was very much a student town. I started weighing up my options.
I met a friend for coffee. We talked music. Somewhat disparagingly she said: “I think you’d like bob hund”. She wasn’t a fan herself but knew I liked cryptic indie rock of the Pavement and Pixies variety. Since I’d just got my first pay packet, I went to a record store and picked up a copy of what was then the band’s latest album, ‘Jag rear ut min själ! Allt skall bort!!!’
I’d been lucky to have a group of friends who refused to speak English to me in my first few months in Sweden and was just about able to decrypt the title: ‘I’m selling my soul! Everything must go!!!’ I liked it. And I liked the album art. And I liked that my chanson-favouring friend didn’t think much of them. I parted with my cash and headed for the fluorescent strip lights of home.
What follows is a blow-by-blow account of a listening experience that completely floored me, and had me scrambling for the dictionary to help make sense of the entire glorious mess. And it definitely contributed to me sticking around a bit longer: if Sweden could produce a band this good, it was time to stop whining and learn to love the bike-fall bruises.
Expectant young fans wait for bob hund to go on stage. Photo: Paul O'Mahony
Lesson 1: bob hunds 115:e dröm – bob hund’s 115th dream
This is a useful opener for two reasons: we don’t have to figure out any lyrics yet because it’s an instrumental; it also teaches us how to write out ordinal numbers, with a colon and an ‘e’. Then there’s the music, a peerless space-surf sound that hovers alone above the Earth.
The song title references a Bob Dylan song (Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream).
Lesson 2: Tralala lilla molntuss, kom hit skall du få en puss – Tra-la-la little cloud tuft, come here and you’ll get a kiss
This is by far the band’s most popular song if Spotify’s stats are to be believed. It was also my first introduction to Thomas Öberg’s singing. The first thing you notice is that he’s from Skåne. Every song’s a diphthong song.
And the words suck me in. I’m huddled beside the CD player now – the terrible pasta dinner can wait.
De kan klaga om de vill, jag har slutat att bry mig om sånt
Jag är glad att jag finns till, det breder ut min horisont.
I struggle with this one a bit until I figure out that the phrasal verb att finnas till means to exist:
They can complain if they want, I’ve stopped caring about things like that,
I’m glad I exist, it broadens my horizons.
Lesson 3: Helgen v. 48 – The weekend of week 48
I can’t stress enough how much I love this song. It also introduced me to the Swedish habit of using week numbers (see The Local's video), and I now listen to it at the end of every November.
The song’s jauntiness offsets the bleakness of the season, and it’s got some lovely understatement in the lyrics. (It’s November. The scent of flowers is a long way off.) And then there’s some useful vocab for beginner Swedish learners: tjej (girl) and snut (cop), det dröjer (it takes time).
Det är sent och det dröjer lite till innan blommorna slår ut
Jag ser en bil
Jag ser en tjej
Jag ser en snut
Snart har helgen vecka 48 tagit slut
It’s late and it will take a while more before the flowers bloom
I see a car
I see a girl
I see a cop
The weekend of week 48 is soon over
Thomas Öberg sings into a traffic cone. Photo: Paul O'Mahony
Lesson 4: Det är nu det börjar – Now is when it begins
Space, Sweden, and the relationship between the two often get a mention in bob hund songs, and the lyrics here also do a fine line in self-deprecation:
Även Sverige ligger i rymden
Det är allmänt känt
Jag ska halvera mitt allvar
Till hundra procent
Even Sweden is located in space
That’s widely known
I’m going to halve my seriousness
To a hundred percent
I’m so deep into the album now that Uppsala has almost ceased to exist. I’m looking down on it from outer space and all that’s left is the cathedral, which looks like it too could take off at any moment.
Lesson 5: God dag & Adjö – Good day & Adieu
The album takes a darker turn here as Öberg reflects on everyday soullessness, a recurring theme throughout the band’s lengthy lifespan.
Take special note of the word kö (queue) – very important!
Självklart finns det inga spöken
Sa mannen som gick upp i rök
Vi sjunker sakta ner i fakta, försöken
Min fantasi får stå i kö för ett jobb
Of course there aren’t any ghosts
Said the man who went up in smoke
We’re sinking slowly into facts, experiments
My imagination has to stand in line for a job
Lesson 6: Nu är det väl revolution på gång? – Isn’t there a revolution under way yet?
This is another of their best-known songs and one that always gets played live, a masked Öberg writhing topless like the son of Iggy Pop.
Jag ligger här och tänker ut
Hur vi skall få vårt land på fötter bäst
Jag vill att allt ska bli som vanligt
Ändå är det det som jag fruktar mest
I’m lying here working out
How best to get our country on its feet
I want everything to stay the same
Yet that’s what I fear the most
This is the Swedish version of the mic drop: the cone drop. Photo: Paul O'Mahony
Lesson 7: Raketmaskinen – The rocket machine
Se upp! Vem faller platt om ett rykte är sant?
Unless you’re at a construction site, se upp! doesn’t usually translate as look up. It’s more Watch out! And, more to the point, Who falls flat if a rumour is true?
Lesson 8: Jag är inte arg – I’m not angry
Time to face the strange. This is a song about changes. And it’s got a nice verb construction, att vika undan för någonting (to move aside for/give way to something).
Öra in och öra ut igen
Vintern viker undan för sommaren
Pojkvän in och flickvän ut igen
Den sura vintern förlorar mot sommaren
Ear in and ear out again
Winter gives way to summer
Boyfriend in and girlfriend out again
The bitter winter loses to the summer
Lesson 9: bob hund: 1999
Time for the album’s second instrumental, and very good it is too.
Guitarist Conny Nimmersjö. Photo: Paul O'Mahony
Lesson 10: Jag rear ut min själ – I’m selling my soul
The album’s title track is an angsty slow-burner that goes all Velvet Underground in the middle section before building to a furious crescendo.
There’s also some excellent verb action going on – att ge sig av/iväg – to head off/away.
Jag har gett mig iväg
Mot min längtan
Men alla vägar leder längre in
Jag rear ut min själ
I have headed away
Towards my longing
But all paths lead further in
I’m selling my soul
Lesson 11: bob hund’s 115:e sång – bob hund’s 115th song
Bob hund are a bunch of real characters who went their own way and created a unique sound. Guitarist Conny Nimmersjö is at the centre of many of their best moments, and that’s very much the case on the album’s closing track.
The song also contains a repeated couplet that will lodge itself in your brain once you’ve heard it sung:
Det fladdrar, det flimrar, det börjar att skaka
Det goda är svårt att hålla tillbaka
It flaps, it flickers, it starts to shake
The good is hard to hold back
It’s an optimistic ending to an album that takes the listener on a joyride to a kaleidoscopic place of swirling emotions and astral tones. You won’t want to leave.
Thomas Öberg strikes a natural pose. Photo: Paul O'Mahony