SWEET ON SWEDES

           MY FAVORITE SONG this spring was an enchanting little cocktail-pop jaunt called "Daddy's Car," in which a dewy-eyed Scandinavian singer and her friends go on a cosmic Euro-roadtrip "to find out how summers are." Off they go--"From Luxembourg to Rome/From Berlin to the moon/From Paris to Lucerne/From Athens to the sun"--before they fly around the world and "crash down in Amsterdam." It comes from a charming quintet from Malmo, Sweden called The Cardigans(above), who made their U.S. debut earlier this year with a record called Life. Their brief American tour recently called for a roadtrip of another kind, one linking the pop psyches of Malmo, Chicago, Osaka, and Minneapolis.

           Let us explain. In a fascinating example of random cultural exchange, over half a million copies of Life have sold in Japan, while the band is barely accepted at home, modestly successful in greater Europe, and virtually unknown here. Meanwhile, they have kindred spirits in Minneapolis's own Legendary Jim Ruiz Group. Both Life and Ruiz's Oh Brother Where Art Thou? have songs about Amsterdam; both are issued in the States by Chicago's Minty Fresh label; and both traffic in a cheery, wistful brand of pre-rock pop. When the two bands played together at Chicago's Double Door earlier this month, at least 25 or 30 Minneapolitans made the eight-hour trip to be there. It made for an unusually high level of Scandinavian blood in the house, and it made Minne-centric Ruiz songs like "Glad They're Gone," "Bobby Stinson's Guitar," and "Minneapolis" that much more affecting; even the natives were impressed.

           The Cardigans looked somewhat less glamorous than one might expect from their album art and the video for their hit "Carnival," and they bracketed their set with gorgeously subtle covers by "our friends Black Sabbath" ("Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" and "Iron Man"). The great Cardigans paradox, it seems, is that chief guitarist/songwriter Peter Svensson is versed in metal, but this benign gang is too damn cute to pull off the heavy schtick. Instead, summery jazz-pop, light romance, and exaggerated cheer are the order of the day. In iconic lead singer Nina Persson, the Cards possess a pricelessly archetypal voice--a breathy, Nordic coo that at once forbids and seduces. The band's modus operandi is like no other British or Euro pop, and it's certainly not American; what emerges is an identity that's fundamentally, exotically Swedish.

           Indeed, it looks as if a vibrant Swedish indie scene could be blooming. While the Cardigans are the first of the female-fronted Swedepop groups to break semi-big, at least two other vaguely similar bands could follow: Cloudberry Jam and Komeda, who play Blur and Pulp to the Cardigans' Oasis, and have extremely hard-to-find records on Sweden's North of No South label. Komeda's The Genius of Komeda, to be reissued by Minty Fresh this fall, infuses an art-film soundtrack influence tempered by cold, detached vocals and social paranoia akin to Blur, Stereolab or even Talking Heads '77. Cloudberry Jam, on the other hand, factors a trace of Motown into the Swedepop equation, right down to the rich horn and string arrangements and soul harmonies. Their Providing the Atmosphere may wash up on U.S. shores in early '97. For now, there's more info on Swedepop to be found on the Web than in domestic record stores (try http://www.mc.hik.se/benno/benno.html or http://www.lysator.liu.se/~chief/scan.html). (Groebner)

PUNK EXPLOSION

           THIS WEEKEND BRINGS an unprecedented three-day Minneapolis Punk Fest to the U of M's Coffman Union. It makes for a high point in punk scene unity, which may owe itself to the efforts of the Extreme Noise record store to pull together various sects and subgenres. The 26-band international brouhaha features big names such as Los Crudos, Boris the Sprinkler, and Blanks 77, as well as diverse locals such as The Strike (mod-punk), Quincy Punx (drunk-punk), Dillinger Four (pop-punk), Misery's and Code 13's political grindcore, and more. It becomes apparent that this scene isn't unified by a singular musical style, fashion, or ideology--but rather a common bond among the wild and disenfranchised. The entire fest is a benefit for activist groups Food Not Bombs, Casa de Esperanza, and the "For the Kids" Collective. Friday through Sunday. $5 per show/$17 for the whole weekend (passes available at Extreme Noise, 124 W. Lake Street, Mpls). Great Hall, Coffman Union; 300 Washington Ave. S.E., Mpls.; 624-8638.

           Meanwhile, Canada's way-cool Chixdiggit (above), deliver chunka-chunka guitars at lightning speed, whipping off lite punk à la Ramones or Green Day, with love ballads along the lines of "I Wanna Hump You." They've got a beautiful new release on SubPop, but it still doesn't do justice to their live shows. The like-minded but much more serious Magnolias open. ($6. Saturday; all ages show 4 p.m.; ID show 8:30 p.m. First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N., 338-8388.) (Groebner/Dregni)

COUNTRY STUFF

           IF YOU WERE at Rosie Flores's last Twin Cities party, which teamed her up with rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson, you know what to expect this Friday when Flores joins rock/country legend Sonny Burgess , a Sun Recordsalso-ran whose jazzy jump-blues "Red Headed Woman" was one of the label's wilder moments. His brand-new, self-titled comeback on Rounder records shows the homefire still burning: "Hang Up The Moon" calls back the ghost of Roy Orbison, while "Bigger Than Elvis" is a sweet tribute with backing by Scotty Mooreand the Jordanaires. Meanwhile, Rounder just reissued (with six bonus tracks) Flores's own self-titled debut from 1987 under the title A Honky Tonk Reprise. What a fine record that was! Classic country music without camp, including Harlan Howard's "God May Forgive You (But I Won't)," sounding as timeless as ever. Together, these two should more fun than Dolly & Porter. Flatstor opens. ($6/$8 at the door. Music at 7 p.m. First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N., Mpls.; 338-8388.) (Hermes)

           Meanwhile, alt-country roots-rocker and schtickmeister Webb Wilder comes to town Saturday for a show at the 400 Bar with material from his new Watermelon record, Acres of Suede, as well as his usual truck loada covers (9 p.m.; 332-2903)... Also on the country-rock tip, veteran Jerry Jeff Walker is in town for a pair of shows at the Fine Line Music Cafe Friday and Saturday night. His new record--number 26, in case you're trying to keep track, is a live set called Night After Night on his own Tried & True label. ride, Ruby, ride open Friday, and The Hillcats open Saturday. (Doors at 5 p.m., music at 9 p.m. $18/$20 at the door; 338-8100)... St. Louis's Wagon are a neat country-folk-pop outfit whose debut, No Kinder Room, is just out on Hightone (home of local good ol' boys The Carpetbaggers). They'll be wrapping up the first leg of a cross-country tour at the Cabooze on Saturday night, and should definitely be worth a listen. They'll open for blues guitarist Tab Benoit. ($10/$12 at the door, music at 9:30 p.m.; 338-6425.) (Hermes) CP

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