Introducing: Daniel Norgren’s ‘The Flow’
A premiere of the new track, plus an essay by friend, fan, and collaborator Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats)
Daniel Norgren’s Wooh Dang is filled with a sense of patient, slowly unfurling space. It feels like a long slow motion drive through a country that is both alien and familiar, ancient and brand new at once. I’ve always been enamored of records that inhabit some sort of clear geography, and this one does that. I’m not really sure if Norgren has a specific spot on the map that he’s trying to take us to, but the first time I heard Wooh Dang I got walloped with the memory of my first wide-eyed glimpse of the open roads of America.
I caught my first sight of the whole of the USA in the Spring of 2000 during my first ever tour. It was all new to me. I mean, it’s not like I’d never left home before, but I was raised in a family for whom traveling wasn’t much of a thing. Then after that, I was a broke dude in my early twenties who could barely leave the Chicago city limits. This tour was huge—six weeks—Minneapolis to Boston, Boston down to Gainesville, then across the width of the country to San Diego and then up to Portland. A giant clockwise swing through places I never had imagined I’d see. It was pretty much the start of my life as I know it now—an important time. But what I remember most is the vastness of this place, and how foreign so much of it seemed. I turned twenty-four on that tour, the same day that I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life. I felt gloriously far away from home.
While Wooh Dang feels like an intimate, personal statement, and certainly has a lot of eye-level love coursing through its veins, it also feels huge and lonesome to me in a beautiful way. Gloriously far away from home for sure. You could be forgiven for thinking this music is “Americana,” if not American. But it’s an album made in Sweden by Swedish people. So there’s a beautiful cultural filter there that turns everything slightly sideways in continually unexpected ways. “Dandelion Time” is like a dizzy loop of a juke joint jam. “The Power” and “Rolling Rolling Rolling” and “Let Love Run the Game” are filled with soul and gospel touches. Western movies starring John Wayne get mentioned. And of course, the album’s title is some sort of enigmatic folksy declaration. All real classic American sounding stuff, but painted with big broad strokes, not precious. There’s an elemental quality to it, like this music couldn’t really sound any other way. It sounds like a lot of things, and nothing at all.
The first song is one of those aforementioned bold strokes. In this age of top-loading your album with bangers, “Blue Sky Moon” is an exciting thing to hear as track one. It’s a piece of music that begins with two and half minutes of gently building ambient and environmental noise. Then as it appears to be perhaps fading away, it crossfades with a tease of a song from later in the album, the joyfully slow-burning “So Glad.” But the version of that song heard in these opening moments is like a dream, fogged out. Maybe it’s a demo? It’s hard to tell if Norgren is singing words here or just mumbles. It’s as much a feeling as anything. Language is a great part of this record, another thing getting fed through this hazy filter. There are a lot of lines here that sound like lost southern colloquialisms. I mean, I know that Swedish people speak perfect English (and sing it even better), but I’d love to think that a devastatingly beautiful yet confounding line like “you’re the apple of my dreams” couldn’t have been written by anyone from anywhere else.
Maybe I like non-American musical interpretations of America. I can’t imagine the canyons of Los Angeles without thinking about Joni Mitchell’s vision of them, or Neil Young’s scuzzy slice of southern California as chronicled in “Tonight’s the Night” and “On the Beach.” Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” makes me feel the Catskills and Marin County. And of course, The Band’s widescreen vision of weird old America is bedrock. I’m still traveling around the USA in circles in a van almost twenty years later, still ending up on stretches of interstate that I’ve never seen before, and always trying to find new ways to soundtrack those long drives. It makes me happy to have found a songwriter from across the ocean who reminds me of that big strange alien landscape that moved me so much way back when.
—Eric D. Johnson