Faris Nourallah

King of Sweden

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On his third solo album, Texas-based singer/songwriter Faris Nourallah claims to have crafted a narrative song cycle based on a central character, a disillusioned and disenfranchised teenager. The "story" is as hard to suss out as that of such classic supposed concept albums as Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade (or for that matter, Green Day's American Idiot), but it's of little importance. This brief but musically rich 13-track album is a varied and delightful journey through a variety of indie folk and arty pop styles. After starting with a batch of songs in the John Vanderslice or Elliott Smith tradition of weedy singer/songwriterisms, there's a montage of brief songs in the album's center, fading in and out of each other within a minute or so each, that sounds oddly like the free-form art rock of Soft Machine's Volume Two, even down to the fact that when Nourallah sings in falsetto, he sounds strikingly like Robert Wyatt. That fades into "Guiding Light," which sounds like a dream collaboration between the High Llamas and Canadian art pop cult hero John Southworth, which then transforms into a glorious, dreamy piece of piano-based chamber pop called "I Run Faster Than You Can," which might be the best song Joe Pernice never wrote. (This song was written and performed with Salim Nourallah, with whom Faris made 2001's unfortunately overlooked Nourallah Brothers.) And on it goes, until the haunting melody and dramatic semi-orchestral arrangement of the closing "Tattoo Your Woman." The storyline, by necessity, takes a back seat to Nourallah's melodic gifts and smart, largely self-contained arrangements; King of Sweden is a completely charming record, no matter what it's "about."

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