“I try to tell you fire will burn without you / we need to light it up but you seem to have lost your spark.” The frank assessment of the relationships between people and things are nailed to the mask on Henrik Appel’s solo album Burning Bodies. Those words, from closing track “Dark is the Night”, reverberate with the potency of something that comes to an end before everyone is ready to sign off. Like the rest of the album, Appel explores the aspects of life for which we feel unqualified, unready, uneasy.
The Swedish indie-punk artist, known to most as a creative force within the band Lions Den, detours from his usual surroundings. This is a collection of songs that lean heavily into the world of the radio-friendly progressions, sing-along choruses, and brighter vibes. Those who know the work of Appel will be aware of his involvement in a number of Garage projects around Stockholm – and they’ll know that nothing before has sounded quite the same as Burning Bodies.
Here Appel concerns himself with a kind of cleansing. The album is populated with themes of abandonment, or abandoning. Burning Bodies is a title that toys with the concept of burning bridges – but what Appel does is preserve the connecting networks between things, instead he targets the things themselves. It’s a clever technique, since we’re shown how much of our identities are given to us, or shaped by others – we need those bridges intact. We need to remove the weaknesses in ourselves, and in the false idols we’ve constructed. Communication needn’t lead to confrontation, and Appel shows that.
Lyrically, the artist establishes a ‘first words are best words’ approach to composition. There’s a refreshing from-the-hip directness here. The naturalism achieved within each song removes any sense of contrivance that such an ambitious album would typically show. Crank up a song like “Tomorrow” and the easy display of emotion, reveals incredible confidence in Appel’s sense of purpose. Yes, this is the sound of a man imploring a lover to spend the night – but it’s upbeat, and the promise of good times. There may be desperation, but the focus is on possibilities, not the pain of rejection. The forward-thinking optimism at moments like this balance the agony of heartbreak felt in a track like “Green Eyes” that dismantles heartbreak and lies. The kind of stuff we see in modern love.
Production techniques here are sympathetic to the urgency of the the artist’s messaging. Recorded in just four days with the assistance of Martin Ehrencrona, who produced the Lion’s Den record, the result is loose and lovely. With Appel’s girlfriend Emma taking co-writing credits on a couple of tracks, and Hannes Ferm of HOLY adopting engineering duties, ideas are expanded as they’re explored. When speaking of the studio sessions Appel said, “I’m a fan of sloppy recordings.” It’s clear to hear the approach, but the results are far from sketchy.
The vocal tracks on Burning Bodies sit high in the mix. In most tracks there’s a slight distortion, as if the degradation of tone will give something away of how Appel views communication. Everything passes through a filter, let’s not pretend otherwise. “I Put My MakeUp On”, taking the shape of a 12-bar riff, brings all the fun of dress-up. This track, coming in at 1.25 brings together all the elements. Appel’s beloved Velvet Underground approach to sound (and fondness for cross-dressing), the direct verbiage, and a little bit of whirring oddness as a guitar note spirals off into muted feedback. It’s an exquisite moment in a line of other great moments.
The most endearing element of Burning Bodies is the untellable. The atmosphere of this material is hard to relay. The album inhabits a place between sensibilities, it occupies a space above expectations. It offers surprises, and a depth of humanity that’s both reassuring and passionate. This is the kind of album that you may not notice entering your regular rotation – but in ten years from now it will be sat near the top of your pile, and you’ll know it inside out. Understated. Classic.
HURRY – PREORDER – HENRIK APPEL