There is something magical about an early morning meadow, with the low laying fog carpeting the ground. Beneath that fog is a world of wonders and miracles just waiting to happen. I had no idea I had come upon such a meadow when the lady handed me the latest product of the Swedish progressive band Kaipa titled Vittjar. As I hit play, the sun slowly rose upon the meadow, burning away the fog to reveal something truly wondrous. I would officially classify this as progressive folk, but it really is something of its own, too beautiful to be cheapened by labels and terms, for that would force it into a role. This music was created to be free, and to free the spirits of those who listen to it. I consider it a special moment when a piece from a source completely unknown to me immediately goes right to the core of my soul, quite an experience for a first listen, even more exciting to me to learn that they have been playing in one form or another since the 70s. Some may think it a shame that I have missed so much music by them, but then I would have come into this album with expectations. I had none, and feel the experience was all the more rewarding because of that.
As I stated, Kaipa started their journey in the mid 70s, and played into the 80s until taking an extended break in 82. Regular recording began again in 2002, and has been on a steady pace since. With a history like this, obviously the lineup has gone through its own changes. The current lineup starts out with founding member and keyboardist Hans Lundin. Rounding out the instruments are Jonas Reingold on bass (The Flower Kings, Karmakanic), Morgan Agren on drums (Mats/Morgan Band, recorded with Frank Zappa on Zappa’s Universe), and Per Nilsson on guitar (founding member of Scar Symmetry). The very talented male/female duo on vocals is Patrik Lundstrom and Aleen Gibson.
The album is bookended by two short instrumental pieces, the First Distraction and the Second Distraction. The First Distraction does a wonderful job of introducing the folkish element of the music, softening up the listener for what is to come. The next piece, Lightblue and Green, finishes the job. First off, I must say I have always loved folk music, it offers a certain comfort element that no other genre really can, one that gives a feeling of being home. This song delivers just that, a warm, placid sense of belonging, playful yet serene. This is exemplified by the chorus in the first song, “I’m painting my morning in light blue and green, I’m painting with memories from places I’ve been.” There is such simplicity to its beauty, it tends to cut through all the bullshit guarded layers we carry and finds its way to our simpler selves. Kaipa does this throughout the album, but expands on it like any respectable progressive band should, taking it to another level.
That other level is the epic of the album, Our Silent Ballroom Band. The instrumental aspects of this song are nothing short of spectacular. The rhythm section is pure fluid, smoothly moving from one section to another without letting us know time signatures are changing until it’s too late. The keyboards provide an ethereal atmosphere to the piece, linking the rhythm and guitar perfectly. As to the guitar work of Nilsson, it’s absolutely mind-blowing. As the elements come together, the rhythm stands as an exquisite canvas upon which the keys and guitar paint with impunity. Then there are the vocals. First I must make a confession; I fell in love with Gibson’s voice, totally and completely. I doubt I have ever heard someone sing with such joy as she does in this song. It is also the perfect match to Lundstrom’s, the two darting in and out of unison with each other wonderfully. Thematically, I’m still not sure what they were trying to present, that would take many more listening and maybe a chat with the band, so I will give what I picked up. I perceived the silent songs of the band as the invisible strands of love that dance between two people. We cannot hear the songs, but the rhythm of them move us more than any audible music ever could, the imagery of the lyrics almost matching up to this wonderful ideal, “Our songs fill the air, like the perception of notes giving birth to our own silent band.” It is a stunningly beautiful piece in every way, just stunning.
The other songs of the album definitely had their own place too. Treasure House is an absolutely charming piece, a funky, folksy tale of a small child finding her way through the world, capturing the magical innocence perfectly. The Swedish sung title track Vittjar has an almost gritty edge, and since I don’t speak a word of the language, it seemed to come across to me as a gritty yet loose drinking song, can’t wait to find out how off I am on that. Two more fabulous pieces, the stoic and slightly aggressive A Universe of Tinyness and the slightly frantic The Crowded Hillsides finish out the album. The one thing I found after each subsequent listen is that the folk elements of the music never got old or stale. I think it was because they all seemed to be translated brilliantly through that progressive filter, one I personally am very familiar with having listened to all forms for over thirty years. It simply speaks to me on so many levels.
What makes this album really special to me though is its spirit. It plays, it sings, it dances about the meadows, but it’s not the standard type of play we adults are used to. Our play is restricted by rules, regulations, and structure. Way back in our lives though, there was a time before we were ever told to color inside the lines, no one had ever drawn out boundaries or playfields, and we had never heard the dreaded words “that’s not possible” or the even worse “you’re not supposed to do that.” That was true independence, and that is how this album plays out to me, it brings me to that special place of freedom that I thought I had lost so long ago.