Label: Prophecy Productions
There’s a lot of genre tags that could be applied to Shouldhavebeens, the new album from Swedish band Tengil. Blackgaze, melodic post-hardcore, post-punk, and shimmering post-rock are all part of their sound, and yet no single descriptor feels like an accurate fit. This might suggest a record lacking focus and direction, yet that’s not the case. Instead, Shouldhavebeens is a record full of ambition, using whatever sound it needs to in order to achieve it aims. Throughout, there is a sense of youthful longing and restlessness, making Shouldhavebeens feel like an album fueled by the promise and joy of first (and lasting) love, of a search for belonging, and the knowledge that nothing worthwhile ever came easily.
All of which might make Shouldhavebeens sound like an album that is perfectly suited for a certain place and time – your late teens/early twenty’s, in your university dorm room, your heart filled to bursting with love, whether unrequited or otherwise – and if you don’t fit in to that certain demographic, then you might worry that the album might leave you cold. To some extent, that’s true – it’s hard to tap in to the youthful expressions of emotion the album puts across when you feel older and more settled than the characters the album tells the tale of. Yet despite this, there is plenty in Tengil’s sound that can be appreciated; the beauty of this music is undeniable, with its shimmering guitars and vast, expansive feel creating a sense of openness – it seems barely conceivable that this is the same band who released the ferocious album Six. It reminds me in large part of The Appleseed Cast’s Low Level Owl albums, albeit smaller in scope and ambition, though if people are finally starting to catch up to how superb those records are then that can only be a good thing.
And like those albums, the sense of ambition and grandeur is both the biggest strength and weakness of Shouldhavebeens. The song titles alone walk a tightrope between the profound and the pretentious (‘With A Song for Dead Darlings’; ‘A Lifetime of White Noise’; ‘All for Your Myth’), and at times, the emotional yearning can almost feel like a bit too much – but then, such yearning is the whole point of the album. Likewise, the way that the album spends as much time concerned with atmosphere as it does actual riffs and hooks means that, whilst the overall impression is strong and consistent, it can be hard to remember individual moments within the songs. Again, not inherently a bad thing, and it feels like an intentional choice, especially with the way the production makes the songs, at their most intense, render everything in to a wall of sound from which individual elements can be hard to pick out, but the overall impression is hard to argue against.
I’ve no doubt that, for a certain audience, Shouldhavebeens will be a formative album, the kind that becomes a key part of who you grow up to be and understand yourself. Despite the album not connecting with me emotionally, it’s still impressive in its musical scope, ambition, and execution, taking many of the best parts of bands like Alcest, Explosions in the Sky, and the brightest moments of The Cure – as well as the aforementioned Low Level Owl albums – and combining them in to a cohesive whole. That’s no small achievement, and if Shouldhavebeens can connect with you emotionally, then it will be the kind of record that stays with you for a long time.