Artist of the Week: Taken By Trees

Music Features Taken By Trees
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Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden
Album: East of Eden
For Fans Of: Cat Power, Peter Gabriel, Animal Collective 

Victoria Bergsman, the former lead singer of The Concretes, is perhaps most widely known for her vocal contribution to Peter Bjorn and John's ubiquitous “Young Folks.” On East of Eden, the new album of her solo project Taken By Trees (out Sept. 8 via Rough Trade), she covers some other indie darlings, reworking Animal Collective's “My Girls” as “My Boys.” But in her version, lyrics like “I only want a proper house” take on new weight—Bergsman recorded the whole album in Pakistan, an overcrowded nation saddled with abject poverty.

After sketching out some songs at home Sweden, she traveled to Pakistan with accompanist Andreas Söderström to add traditional rhythms and instruments common in the work of celebrated Sufi music stars Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen. The journey would nearly break her wide open. “I was very tense and I hardly got any sleep,” she says. “There were some obstacles along the way that I could have avoided if I knew more about Pakistanian culture.”

Bergsman may not have made the trip at all if she'd known more about the prejudices she'd face there: Recruiting female musicians from the region wasn't permitted, and the men she assembled were reluctant to take direction from her. But despite their stubbornness and a few kidnapping attempts (when local men discovered she wasn't married, she became fair game to be hauled away; Söderström became her “husband” to prevent further advances), she remained unflagged. Armed with two microphones and a computer, she recorded tabla beats and field recordings of children and insects that she fused with her garage pop leanings to render East of Eden's brilliant synthesis. Five of the 20 musicians she recorded show up on the final record—none of whom had heard a lick of Bergsman's music beforehand.

“My Boys” and “Anna” (featuring Animal Collective's Panda Bear) exhibit accessible, catchy use of the Eastern instruments, while “Wapas Karna (Return)”—featuring the seven-year-old son of a tabla player singing the traditional Pakistani song—is unlike any other Taken By Trees track. On or the droning “Bekännelse.” Bergsman recites the Hermann Hesse poem of the same name, which translates to “confession” in Swedish. “It deals with how fleeting time is,” she says. “And the fact that everything could be gone tomorrow.” For now, Bergsman is vowing to stay in one place for her next album—and, though her own persistence saved the Pakistan sessions, she'll do better research if she ever makes another trip to record. “I thought I knew enough,” she admits. “But clearly I did not.”

Listen to "Watch the Waves" from Taken By Trees' East of Eden on MySpace.

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