Album of the Week: Sven Wunder ― Eastern Flowers

Will Schube's Album of the Week column kicks off with the mysterious Sven Wunder.
By    May 1, 2020

Will Schube wrote this while wearing his DOOM mask.

There’s this new musician currently blowing minds named Sven Wunder, although there’s no way of confirming his newness since very little about him is known. A basic Google search brings up information on a German deforestation researcher approaching his 60th year, and apologies to that Sven Wunder, but I don’t think dude is the answer to our inquiries. Instead, Sven Wunder exists like Burial and the Weeknd used to, or like MF DOOM still sort of does. Mystery is fun when it isn’t forced―when it’s less an aesthetic choice than a perceived general ambivalence to commercial recognition and celebrity. Wunder seems predisposed towards the latter tendency, releasing work that leaves zero traces back to its creator.

Wunder’s first LP, Doğu Çiçekleri, was released last year thanks to financial support from the Swedish Arts Council, but didn’t appear on my radar until Aquarium Drunkard picked it up about a week and a half ago. The album was just re-issued under an American name, Eastern Flowers (through Piano Piano), but Light in the Attic handled distribution, which explains why the album is finally circulating around the tastemaking circles of the web.

With Eastern Flowers, Wunder is on some wildly impressive Captain Murphy-style shit. The vibe is immediately apparent and Axe body spray strong, although pre-pubescent hormones and braces aren’t included. Wunder peddles in Middle Eastern melodies and dusty drum grooves, landing somewhere between Gonjasufi, Maston, and J-Zone. The influences are almost chemically balanced, with the correct dosage of each always applied to accent Wunder’s fascinating approach towards traditional folk musics. “Red Rose” is the strongest example of this on the LP, which uses an open-tuned strummed line and a melody that sounds straight out of Madlib’s Beat Konducta in India to transport us a few thousand miles east and a few hundred years ago. The drums sound ripped from your favorite rap producer’s favorite sample and the synth darts that sound dialed-in from an alien invasion give the song its subversive edge.

Much of Eastern Flowers follows this method, in which a variation on his focal points―dusty drums, psych-rock guitar lines, Middle Eastern percussion―comes in at the last minute to twist his regular process into something wholly unique. That sometimes manifests itself in an outro of tabla drums, like on opener “Black Iris,” or in the way the guitar pattern on “Morning Glory” has an almost-Appalachian flavor to it. Throughout the album, Wunder deploys small stylistic tricks and flourishes to upend entire paths within his songs, and his ability to do this through minimal, non-invasive methods highlights the flexible but precise compositional style he’s perfected on Eastern Flowers.

Sven Wunder’s Bandcamp page lists his homebase in Turkey, so his Swedish roots remained a mystery, but that sounds about right. His forthcoming LP, Wabi Sabi, comes at the perfect time―quickly on the heels of his increasingly popular “debut.” The timing is almost too good to be true. The new album is supposedly indebted to Japanese artistic traditions, but the first single sounds like the music on his first album. No complaints here. The single is called “Yūgen” and features a delightful obsession with the Rhodes piano. It’s a warm, soulful track, with an electric guitar betraying Western influences, specifically the wah-wah delight of American funk from the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s just another example of Wunder’s influences spanning far and wide, and, more importantly, his ability to synthesize these elements into something meticulously composed yet entrancingly raw.

It’s nearly impossible to draw an accurate description of anything associated with Wunder outside of the music itself, which I suppose is the point. His music is highly stylistic by nature, which makes it all the more complex when trying to figure out the man behind the sounds. Like the best mysteries, it’s one you sort of never want solved, because that would ruin some of the fun. This is faceless music, but built from a body you can’t help but recognize.

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