Album Review: “Dreamer on the Run” by U137 (on Deep Elm)

In the heart of Scandinavia, where sometimes weeks may go by without sunlight, two musicians formed a post rock project and named it after a cold war incident involving a Soviet submarine that ran aground on Sweden’s southern coastline.  If I stopped right there and cued up a track from their album, you would probably be braced for something heavy, dark, and desolate.  What you would not expect are the shimmering guitars, anthemic melodies, and soaring choir voices of ‘The Poet’, the track that opens the album “Dreamer on the Run” by U137.

Of course, I craftily left out that the two musicians are Adam Tornblad and Oscar Gulbrandsen who are also part of Moonlit Sailor, a group that has released three albums of uplifting instrumental music, and that “Dreamer on the Run” is exactly the kind of record they wanted to make.

According to Adam, “What inspires us is the thought of making THE perfect song, a timeless masterpiece of sorts. Dreamer is about as personal as an album gets. We wrote the music while living together directly after we had both ended long-term relationships. We shared the same vision about the album…to make our listeners feel inspired. The album title refers to those ‘dreamers’ among us who are ‘on the run’ from an ordinary, boring existence”.

By the standard that Adam and Oscar set for themselves, the album is an unqualified success. Leave your angst, melancholy, and anger at the door.  “Dreamer on the Run” is the sound of the first road trip of the summer or a deep breath of ocean air on a sunny day at the beach.  The opening tracks, ‘The Poet’ and ‘Watching the Storm’, set the tone both thematically and musically to tee up what I consider the ‘home run’ of the album, the resplendent ‘Pearl Lakes’.  It is a stadium-ready song with an introduction would not sound out of place at a U2 concert (including Edge like guitars) and is full of interesting progressions and melodic surprises.

After ‘Pearl Lakes’, the album shifts back down into a lower gear with a stretch of more atmospheric tunes which are largely absent of percussion, including the sentimental ‘Let Me Keep This Memory’, the searching ‘Varburg’, and the transcendent ‘Midsummer Field’.  The energy level climbs again on ‘Sliding Doors’ which leads off with strumming acoustic guitars and a soaring e-bow and ends on a powerful, anthemic crescendo.  Finally, there is a just a touch of melancholy in the short ‘The Nostalgic Tune’ before the album ends strongly on the title track, which peaks triumphantly in a swirl of guitars, strings, and synths before the delicate outro reprises the melody with just the chimes of the glockenspiel.

One has to admire the way that the guys reached inside themselves during what could have been a dark time in their lives to create music that is exuberant and optimistic and, unlike the namesake of the band, unsinkable.  It has an unabashedly romantic spirit and delivers everything it promises on the tin.  The U137 submarine may have run aground 30 years ago, but U137, the band, is headed for open waters with not a cloud in the sky.

Album info: