Well, mark down this new solo album from Rikard Sjöblom as the first surprise of 2016 for me. Rikard is the vocalist and keyboardist for Sweden’s Beardfish, a band that I am not overly fond of hearing. They’ve just never scratched the right itch for me, and so I have something of a love-hate relationship for them. Rikard, however, has surprised me rather pleasantly with an excellent new album called “The Unbendable Sleep”. Knowing that he is from Beardfish, I actually passed this album on to a different reviewer, but then ended up writing the review myself. I’m very glad I took the time to hear it.
“The Unbendable Sleep” is an album about the human experience, and all the hate, love, and injustice that comes with it. Rikard has said that the album emphasizes the ideas of self-esteem and believing in yourself. Now, that does sound a bit cliche or even maddeningly plain, but he does a great job with it, especially on a lyrical basis. These lyrics made me notice something about this album, though.
I could be way off here, but I’m sensing a strong 90’s influence in the “The Unbendable Sleep”. Lyrically, the album just feels like something I heard in my youth from Collective Soul or something from the laid-back acoustic rock scene. Now, the music doesn’t follow this vibe completely, but there’s just something about the topics and lyrics that just scream all of this at me.
Musically, however, the album is far more varied. The album is much lighter and brighter than a typical Beardfish album. Some of the album, especially the first couple tracks, does indeed feel like some combination of 90’s acoustic rock with progressive rock. There’s definitely a indie thing going on here, too. The guitar work, of course, is quite riveting in this case, and there’s just a rockin’ sense of, well, fun. I didn’t expect that.
The album doesn’t stay there, though. A retro sound starts to reveal itself, often reminding me of The Who and, for some reason, Santana. Starting with “Rhyme and Reason”, the album starts down a more progressive path featuring excellent electric guitars, fantastic keys, and more complex arrangements. Rikard’s voice is precise and very pure, too. The album still remains in a brighter tone, but it explores some various ideas and a variety of instruments, as well. “Building a Tent for Astor”, for example, is an interesting instrumental that uses a Venician style (I think), and “Anna-Lee” feels very much like a late 60’s guitar-heavy rocker. Along the way, there are some outstanding solos of various instruments, especially flute and synth. And I’m a sucker for synth.
Overall, it’s a brilliant album full of personality and real heart. You can almost hear the anti-war songs of the 60’s and 70’s screaming through each track, but, for some reason, I really pull a 90’s vibe from the lyrics, too. Rikard, for sure, is definitely not a fan of remaining in one style. There’s plenty of prog here, as well as hard rock and acoustic rock. The final track, especially, feels very retro, too. As all over the place as this album is, Rikard really pulls it all together into a fun, groovy, and very human album.