Music Review: Dieter Schöön's Lablaza

by Rick Rockwell

Fans of Depeche Mode, looking for something to tide you over until next month’s long-awaited release of Sounds of the Universe? A suggestion: give a listen to Sweden’s Dieter Schöön.

Schöön’s debut Lablaza is being widely released today (March 23) in Europe. Although Lablaza debuted in Sweden in 2007 and then was regionally distributed to the U.K., France, and Scandinavia, Schöön’s label is attempting to find a bigger audience for his interesting work. (Lablaza has been available through iTunes in the U.S. since its debut and is available as an import and as a download from Amazon, but it has not yet been physically released as a CD in the U.S.)

Schöön admits his musical base comes from his admiration of the Mode and he wears this admiration on his sleeve. But there are other influences here too: Kraftwërk, King Crimson, and Radiohead, just to mention a few. Nevertheless, as any musician worth his chops, Schöön transcends his influences and creates something new and interesting in the murky midground between electronica and progressive rock.

Schöön actually works hard to defy categorization on Lablaza. He sings in at least four languages (primarily English, but also Swedish, German and Spanish). Latin influences pop up in unlikely spots throughout Lablaza, often not for entire songs, but for bridges or passages, perhaps influenced by Schöön’s work with some of the members of Sweden’s Soundtrack of Our Lives, a notable band from the Scandinavian music scene known for incorporating Latin and other world music influences into their alt-rock. These Latin-tinged numbers pepper Lablaza and they are some of the albums’ best tracks: “Manuel,” “Mary Jane,” and “The Harbour’s Cold.”

But Lablaza is not all headtrip soundscapes. Schöön’s lyricism often carries the tracks that are more stripped down and set in mostly acoustic tones. “Hogface” is a humorous take on the mentally grueling nature of the artistic process which includes the lament: “…working on this album for the rest of my life!” On “Warm Hearts” and “Jet Head” (where Schöön seems to be channeling Beck) Schöön uses wordplay and alternative pronunciations to produce new lyrical twists. “I’ll Go There” mixes graphic images and despondent feelings that recall the lyrical work of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.

Perhaps some will see Lablaza as derivative. However, its edgy, icy atmospherics seem like a perfect springtime postcard from Sweden.

(The promotional photo of Dieter Schöön is from Headspin Recordings. Schöön opens a four-night stand in Paris tonight, March 23, as part of his European tour. To see Schöön’s music video for "Mary Jane," please check below.)

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Anonymous said...

I have the album and I dont find any common between Dieter and DM ... ! strange

Rick Rockwell said...

I actually like Dieter’s work better than the new Depeche Mode. But listen to the opening passage of “Manuel,” the very first cut and the influence of DM is quite apparent from the start. Dieter and his publicists actually play to this as Depeche Mode is mentioned prominently in the material Dieter sends out to the press. As noted here, the Mode is not the only influence, and Dieter does a very good job of transcending his influences.

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