Thanks to its intricate and elegant arrangements, it’s hard not to imagine yourself growing smarter and more sophisticated whilst listening to Natura Morta, the latest album from Swedish composer Sven Wunder. Hearkening back to the days of Eric Matthews and Cardinal, as well as bands like The Clientele, which wed orchestral ornamentation to immaculate pop songwriting, Natura Morta is nothing less than a pure delight for the ears.
Much of that’s due to Wunder’s knack for crafting impeccable melodies and then dressing them up in elaborate instrumentation, from the traditional pop ensemble (guitar, bass, and drums) to more eclectic selections like marimba, flugelhorn, and harpsichord. And of course, an absolute boatload of stringed instruments. (Nine violins, four violas, and three cellos, to be precise.)
You might think that the album’s twelve songs would get bogged down under the weight of all those players, but nothing could be further from the truth. Case in point, “Alla Prima,” which features some particularly jaunty harpsichord runs buoyed by swooning strings, deft acoustic guitar, and a joyously trilling flute.
Natura Morta occasionally ventures into more darkly shaded territory. For instance, the shadowy “Impasto” creeps along like a theme from some long-lost ’70s spy series. “Prussian Blue” begins with some contemplative piano notes that are soon overtaken by frenetic drums and surf-tinged guitars. “Memento Mori” continues the espionage theme, with vaguely ominous Barry-esque strings pairing quite nicely with a surprisingly funky guitar and electric piano combo. But even in these “dark” moments — and I use that term in the most relative sense possible — Natura Morta still flows smoothly thanks to the obvious talent of Wunder and his players.
As you might have guessed by now, Wunder’s songs are absolutely packed with a level of detail that can still take you by surprise, even after multiple listens. The graceful title track may barely cross the three-minute mark, but it contains an album’s worth of beauty all on its own, from the soft piano notes in the opening seconds to the effortless push and pull between Wunder et al.‘s silky smooth guitar licks and lush strings. Meanwhile, “Panorama” seems to reinvent itself every thirty seconds or so, swinging between horns, harpsichord, flute, strings, and piano, with each new phase more lovely than the last.
I’ve used a number of high-falutin’ adjectives in my review, including “elegant,” “immaculate,” “impeccable,” even “deft.” But here’s the thing: Wunder’s craftsmanship earn every single one of them. I love dirty, feedback-laden three-chord rock n’ roll as much as the next person. But every now and then, you need some refinement in your life, something that comes with a sense of order and great attention to detail — and Sven Wunder’s Natura Morta is a perfect album for those times.