The Sound of Arrows is an amazing sound.
Though few will have heard of their music, or even their stage name, Stefan Storm and Oskar Gullstrand (yes, this makes them Swedish) are very good at making a very special, very rare denomination of dream-pop; the very kind of music which is capable of conjuring up long-forgotten memories and of giving you the building blocks for new ones as you soar through your own imagination into a distant galaxy. It's the kind of music that turns timid souls into brave ones that dare to tread the unknown and engage in fantastical adventures to recreate to wide-eyed wonder of simply being a child again. You may remember me saying at some point or other that the best pop music is that which doesn't look like it's trying to hard. This music is the embodiment of that. The crux of it being that there's traces everywhere throughout the duo's 2011 début album 'Voyage' that immense care sand attention is paid to every verse, every chorus, every line and every musical interlude that can be found on the album. It was a stunning accomplishment for today's music industry, despite passing under the radar completely, even in Sweden.
Only few acts can really be placed into the same sort niche as them. I suppose the closest high-profile reference I can give you is that if you like Underworld's 'Caliban's Dream' and M83's 'Midnight City', then you should be listening to The Sound of Arrows. This following clip is the trailer for 'Voyage', and introduces their world with far more accuracy and celebratory warmth than my words ever could. It's not easy to carry the immense gravity of such beautifully complex music, but their whole world is perfectly encapsulated here.
Song featured: 'There Is Still Hope', my personal favourite.
Taking their name from a single line in a little-known Swedish poem by a little-known Swedish poet, the dream-pop duo's small-time attributes end there. They may be modest in their approach to publicity and commercial attention, but their approach to music suggests a determination to create and explore enormous, gorgeous landscapes with vibrant colours, textures and emotions with the wild fervour and creative carelessness of a fearless childhood. On top of that, the stunning Utopian visuals they give their videos transcends their lowly-funded membership as part of the music industry, mocking big-budget videos and soaring into a near palpable new reality. In a time where music videos achieve their 'avant-garde' qualities by diving headlong into monochromatic moodiness, obscure hi-culture symbolism and cheap sex, bleached of colour and traceable emotion, it's a warming thing to see something so simple like this:
Still trying to fathom VEVO logic. Not even I can make an explicit link between The Sound of Arrows and One Direction.
Having listened to 'Magic', you'd only be seconds into the song before comparisons to Pet Shop Boys are made. Perhaps now I should dispute the common links made between the few who have heard of the Arrows and the frequent comparisons they often get to Pet Shop Boys. Whilst it's no comparison to sniff at, Pet Shop Boys prided themselves (before they strayed into the MOR wilderness) for their sneering satire of Thatcherism and society in general ('Opportunities', 'West End Girls', 'Love, etc.') and Neil Tennant typically spoke-sang with an un-emotive tone, mimicking the objectivity of their social critiques; their music was a commentary on the flaws of human nature and then-modern culture. The Sound of Arrows are far more optimistic than this - perhaps even naive. Would Pet Shop Boys use a children's choir? Would Tennant sing the lyrics "Seize the chance, follow your dreams/Be yourself, don't plan and scheme"? The Arrows' musical inventory may be the same but viewed through a noughties lens, but the result of their toil produces music that sings of hope, promise, love, and alluringly manifests itself within the relentless energy of youth.
'Magic' is merely the tip of a very deep iceberg. Swapping poppy melodies for billowing silk layers and sedate, reflective vulnerability on songs like 'Ruins of Rome', it's hard to imagine such polished productions and carefully augmented sounds can be produced on such a small budget. The overtones of triumphing-over-adversary you get from the the red velvet synths of 'Conquest' or the mighty ode to love, loss and longing, 'Wonders', vibrate with a sparkling richness rarely ever seen or heard from such a small-scale duo. Their single 'Nova' combines chart pop know-how and a glorious fervour for the love of someone else, even if it involved treading blindly into the vast unknown - "Though I fear what is to come, I'm a soldier running; try to see/At the end of the world, someone holds out for me". It's a full-scale event held at the distant reaches of the farthest galaxy, and everyone's invited.
Masterfully crafting layer upon layer into full-bodied walls of sound and imagination, in many ways it's quite hard to picture listening the Arrows' without seeing at least one of their accompanying cinematic triumphs - it's part of the promise of The Sound of Arrows and magnifies their ability to invigorate the unconscious with metallic, pastel-coloured melodies like on 'Into The Clouds'; the video for which is a spectroscopic world of pure optimism, hope, and the carefree frivolity of simply being a child again. Second album track, 'Wonders', is one of their best. Instead of stringently connecting itself to collective memories of bygones and childhood abandon, 'Wonders' forms new memories that promise us we can still revive such days whilst indulging in our present, with it’s pulse-raising, spacious longing and heavily-breathing journey into the introspective.
There are darker sides to the Arrows' work, and when the tangible highs run low we see them mourn the injustices of this reality. Their shortest song, 'Hurting All The Way', doesn't suffer it's length. In the brief two-and-a-half-minute song, the removal of the adventurous wonder that illuminates the rest of the album sees a moving tale with a gentle crescendo that speaks of the emotional and social confines of homosexuality. It's not a massive departure of sound, but the themes and tones are far darker and Storm's vocals take on a lamenting vulnerability. Following hot on the heals of 'Hurting All The Way' though, is the tempestuous 'Conquest'. It doesn't take much thought to propose that it was strategically placed after 'Hurting All The Way' on Voyage's tracklisting due to it's message of determination to discover and achieve the impossible, a perfect partner to the tender pathos of the previous track.
Warning: Video contains horses, boobies and floating pyramids.
Cynics may snigger at the dreamy naivety of The Sound of Arrows. Some may critique it for compromising it's chart appeal for not being 'pop' enough and never leaning to far into the left of field to drum up alternative interest. Some may even retort at their attempts to hide themselves away from the trials and tribulations of this reality to thrive in their own, but for me they take listeners on a journey you don't want to come back from. Grimace if you will, but in the words of Stefan Storm himself:
"I may be dreaming but I think I believe/I might be seeing things that aren't quite real/But right now, I don't care if I do".