Surrounded – Safety in Numbers

Safety in Numbers

I must admit to feeling ambiguous about one of Deep Elm’s most recent additions, Sweden’s Surrounded. Comparisons for this band have been made to Pink Floyd and Mercury Rev, and it’s easy to hear. Even on the band’s shortest songs, the overall feeling of each track is epic. Lush, layered guitars float along synths and drums and slightly distorted lyrics, creating something thick and flush with levels that reveal themselves only on multiple listens. In short, it sounds like something I would love completely, and somehow I can only say that while the music is very, very good, something is lacking.
I’m not sure if the songwriting is less than inspired, or if perhaps it’s Marten Rydell’s vocals, distorted slightly and often difficult to understand. Or perhaps it’s that the songs blend together, with no song standing out at all. This makes for a very cohesive album, but one in which it’s difficult to distinguish the actual components. Maybe it’s just that bands like Sigur Ros and others have been doing this style of lush, epic songs quite well, and as just the band’s debut, Surrounded isn’t quite ready to match that same level with Safety in Numbers.
There’s some wonderful moments on Safety in Numbers. “Pro-files” feels sweet, almost like a gentle caress, and the music floats wonderfully. Rydell’s voice here is soft and quite pleasant. The calm, deliberate pace of “Cape Perennial” fits the song perfectly. It feels almost whispered, intimate, and here the band hits their style. Even Rydell’s vocals – barely sung, almost as if he wants to whisper his words in your ear – are excellent here. The hushed “Blood Orange Wheels” is another sweet song, with a Mercury Rev-like sound and some lovely guitar. There’s some psychedelic effects in the background to “Dear Nimby Waltz” that’s quite nice, and Rydell’s deep style here is rather cool. By contrast, “Hashima Skyline” is so soft as to be boring. The longest song here (at only 5 minutes) is “All Points Bulletin,” a nicely building song with some interesting depth to it.
Really, this is a strange offering from Deep Elm. A label most known for the style of post-hardcore known – for better or for worse – as emo has branched out quite a bit lately, both in genres and in nationality. The label has found a host of bands ready for recognition in the states, and Surrounded is clearly one of them. On the band’s debut, Surrounded has created thick, lush, and often incredibly powerful music. But it just doesn’t go far enough. When it’s pretty, it feels like it’s being held back by guitar licks a bit too edgy. When it’s rocking, the layering of guitars and beats sounds a bit forced. And when the song goes on for five minutes, it can feel a bit repetitive. In short, it’s a debut that shows tremendous talent and promise, and I suspect many people will love what Surrounded is doing here, but I’ll be waiting for the band’s next release for the epic, surreal effort I know these musicians have in them.