The Tough AllianceView in iTunes
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Consisting of childhood friends Henning Fürst and Eric Berglund, Göthenburg duo the Tough Alliance -- often referred to simply as TTA -- honed their unique blend of pop, electronica, dub, and Caribbean influences through a series of EP and album releases on the locally based Service label (also home to Jens Lekman and Studio), before forming their own label, Sincerely Yours, in 2006, which helped to establish them as a central force within the Swedish indie music scene. First formed in 2003, they debuted the following year with the Make It Happen EP, featuring the anthemic synth pop title tune, a cover of 50 Cent's "Many Men," and "Take No Heroes," a roll call of their influences that kicks off with Ice Cube, Brian Wilson, and Jackie Wilson and proceeds through an idiosyncratic smorgasbord of punk, soul, reggae, Britpop, and rap icons that, taken as a whole, give an approximate (though hardly coherent) indication of TTA's general aesthetic. The same year's slight Holiday EP declared their allegiance to twee with a cover (and gender-shifting retitling) of Primal Scream's "Velocity Girl," best known as the opening track of the fabled C86 cassette, while their first full-length, 2005's The New School, was a triumph of sunny synth-driven pop with sly electronic perversions. 2006's New Waves EP -- the group's first release on their own Sincerely Yours label -- followed suit, particularly the infectious, tropical-flavored "Silly Crimes," though their next release, a limited-edition LP titled Escaping Your Ambitions, was a bit of a detour, a nautical-themed album of ambient, albeit melodic, electronica. Through the label, which also releases records by like-minded artists Air France, the Honeydrips, and Jonas Game, and whose Web site assigns a catalog number not only to actual releases, but also to every music video, MP3 post, blog entry, and unique, limited-run article of clothing or other merchandise (including spray-paint stencils), the Tough Alliance cultivate a childlike aesthetic of simple beauty, travel, and exploration (including frequent maritime motifs) and, of course, sincerity. Somewhat at odds with this image (though perhaps just demonstrating another sort of "childishness"), their flippantly audacious live performances -- which sometimes include the duo lip-synching to pre-recorded music and swinging baseball bats on-stage -- project a devil-may-care disposition that has resulted in accusations of glorifying violence and hooliganism (not unrelated to their love for and self-conscious appropriation of hip-hop culture). The Tough Alliance have protested these claims, addressing them directly in the song "Neo-Violence" ("Truly sorry, thought you'd get the wink/It's in our nature to be out of synch"), from their superbly summery third album, A New Chance, which reached number 13 on the Swedish album charts. They began attracting greater international attention in 2007, thanks to outstanding reviews for that album and its lead single, "First Class Riot," as well as the first American distribution of some of their catalog through the Summer Lovers Unlimited label. ~ K. Ross Hoffman