That's My Swedishness And I Can't Take It Off

"My Cool" by Adam Tensta is not just one of the best Swedish singles this year but it also has a peculiar quality: It doesn't sound very Swedish. When I first saw it on TV I had no idea it was made by a Swede, and as far as I can tell on repeated viewings there is nothing in the song or the video that betrays its origins, short of the name Tensta.

You may not find it a particularly noteworthy achievement but musical Swedishness is something that's not very difficult to spot. Even when the language and looks are factored out, it's not hard (I think!) to tell that Arash is Swedish, that Chupa Chupa by El Medico is Swedish-produced or what tracks from the Eurovision Song Contest are written by Swedes.

Yes, I think I can safely hear when a track is Swedish. But I have no idea how. The only study I've seen on the subject is a decade old and centered around rockist music circa 1987, so no help there. Besides a specific factor there's the very real possibility it's just psychological self-deception and it's all in my imagination. Or, more likely, it's a tentative and multifaceted combination of timbre, mixing techniques, production sound, melodic fragments, typical harmonic progressions etc. etc. that's very hard to define. I would definately like to see someone try.

Along these lines, I think I've got a fairly decent feel for Danishness, Norwegianity and Hungarianity. Futhermore, I would hope I can often spot Americanness, Britishness and Jamaicanness, if more selectively. And obviously countries with very strong pop music cultures of their own, like India, Egypt and Turkey, have very distinct sounds one can easily spot. I'm sure you have a different set off countries you can tell music comes from.

One more thing: It's way more difficult to do this if the melody is snatched out of context. I've been listening to a lot of Romanian Manele and 60s Greek Laíko lately and they were both, in two distinct generations, influenced by precisely Arab, Indian and Turkish music. The melodies are often taken straight from the pop songs of those countries. But despite this I often have extreme difficulty telling where a particular melody has come from - stripped of clues from the vocals and production it's much more difficult than one might think.

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