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Heartfelt Rock From Sweden's Last Days Of April

Last Days of April's Karl Larsson writes the sweetest of songs. Their kill-me-with-kindness power is undeniable, raising them high, surpassing genre, making them loveable by all. So it's fitting that the latest album released by the Swedish band is titled Ascend to the Stars (Crank! Records). Indeed, its sweet power ascends beyond all circles, scenes and demographics — this is the kind of pop made for feeling, not selling.

Released in Sweden on Bad Taste Records last year, Ascend to the Stars — the band's fourth full-length and second U.S. release — didn't become available in the U.S. until June 3. So for lead-singer/songwriter and guitarist Larsson, the album is old news. His mind is already set on the next longplayer, which LDOA will begin recording this month; it should be out everywhere in early 2004.

"The new [not-yet-titled] album is pretty much just wanting to write the best songs I can," Larsson explained in a recent phone interview. "I feel that Ascend to the Stars was more of a collection of songs, 'cause they were so different from each other, like a collection of songs from somebody's career or something.

"But this time we want the songs to be for themselves, but also work together on an album," he continued. "So every song has to have something precious in it."

Which is not to take away from the breathtaking beauty of Ascend to the Stars. Indeed, each of its songs has something precious — improving on them seems a lofty goal. Larsson crafted songs for the album on his guitar in his "little house" in Sigeuna (about 25 miles outside Stockholm). Produced by Pelle Gunnerfeldt (known for his work with The Hives and International Noise Conspiracy), Ascend to the Stars is full of childlike innocence and purity, gorgeous instrumentation and engaging pop tunes strung together with the same strings that pull at your heart. The songs feature a strong pop sensibility and are clearly heartfelt. Sometimes they rock and dance, other times they swing and cry — but they always, always move.

Opening with the fragile water-drop trickling of the synthesizer, the "Piano" may be the prettiest for its lullaby-like crooning and impassioned, brooding melodies. "When I'm Gone, Will You?" could be considered the nine-song record's "ballad," but it's far too endearing and broken to consider cheesy, while "Playerin'" is the most rockin' for its speedy beats, jangly riffs and catchy lyricism, feeling like one line could catch up and roll over the next.

LDOA began as quartet but has since shrunk to a duo: Larsson and drummer Andreas Fornell. "We've had replacements when we've been on tour, but we're not thinking of getting any new members," Larsson said. "We had a guy named Fredrik [Hermansson] playing piano [and Hammond organ] with us and then we had Oskar [Ekman] who played bass for awhile and then we kicked him out. We're gonna have some different people playing bass on the next album — we don't know who, but there will be a few."

With an unstable, revolving lineup, making time for rehearsal was, well, impossible. "It was quite hectic because we never rehearsed the songs before we recorded them," Larsson said. "That was a time when everyone was sort of dropping off the band — it was just me and Andreas. I did some demos and then Andreas came and did some drums, and then about a week later we entered the studio, so we had to sort of learn the songs when the album was done.

"That wasn't really the best way to go but it turned out all right," he added, sounding awfully humble. "We didn't have a rehearsing room. We had quite much to do before starting recording it. I had to write all the songs and then when I was finished with the songs, there wasn't any time to rehearse 'cause we'd already booked the studio time."

"Some of what inspired Ascend to the Stars was (2000's) Angel Youth — the first album that got reviews and gave us a lot of shows," Larsson explained. "We had been doing quite much touring so we felt we got a lot of good impressions from that. Then we realized that it was very hard doing the songs on Angel Youth live because we had all the strings and a lot of synthesizers.

"So we wanted to make an album which we could play live and which was more simple — the basics," he continued. "So we knew how we wanted the album to be, even though we didn't have the songs, so that made it quite easy to write the songs. But you felt that since Angel Youth was the first album that got good reviews, you had pressure on your writing.

"But the songs turned out really good — [there's] the fast-playing songs and the slow, beautiful sounds, so it's a quite wide spectrum," he added.

LDOA took the title of their last album for the lead track of their current one. "We got a lot of questions in interviews [as to] what 'angel youth' is about, and so I started to think about it, and I sort of made up my own 'angel youth'," explained Larsson. "I think I had probably the 'angel youth' growing up so I wanted to write a song about [it]. It's kind of a Christmas song — it's really about how stuff like Christmas Eve is very fun while you're young and you grow old and it's not the same."

Still, Larsson's favorite song doesn't open the album, but instead ends it. "We did ['At Your Most Beautiful'] in one take," Larsson said. "Both 'At Your Most Beautiful' and 'When I'm Gone, Will You?' were done in one take. We just couldn't add any instruments afterward, because we were so satisfied with how the songs came out that we got kind of amazed that we played that emotional when we normally don't dare to show that much when we play. Recording those songs really released that, so that was a new experience."

Currently writing and preparing to record their next album, LDOA continue to learn from new experiences. "I'm more critical of what to use and not use — you don't do a song on every riff you come up with," Larsson said. "So you have to get the perfect riff first before you make a song of it. You can be much more critical and insecure 'cause you want to push yourself to play the best you can and make songs that are different from ones you have done before. You want to expand on before and make something new.

"There's always coming out very good music all the time, all over the world," he added "So you have to compete with it, write better songs. So you have to be very critical — I have to be anyway." — Jenny Tatone [Thursday, Aug. 7, 2003]

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