When the rock histories of the 2000s are written, at least one long chapter will have to be devoted to the explosion of the concept of the rock band not as a small, discrete unit with relatively stable personnel, but as an amorphous, free-floating collective that could at times expand to include dozens of people. Canada's Broken Social Scene and the pan-European ensemble the Envelopes are perhaps the best-known examples, but I'm from Barcelona -- whose members actually hail from Jönköping, Sweden -- may have them beat in terms of sheer scale: 29 bandmates performed on I'm from Barcelona's debut EP, which introduced the group's sunny, singalong pop sound and eclectic mix of instruments.
That EP began as a one-off lark inspired in part by Sweden's legendarily generous labor laws. Given four weeks of paid vacation time from his office job, part-time singer/songwriter Emanuel Lundgren decided to invite all of his friends -- most of whom were not in fact professional musicians -- to help him make a D.I.Y. EP during the summer of 2005. Recorded at Lundgren's house and various public spots around Jönköping, the EP's completion was celebrated by what was supposed to be the group's debut and farewell performance, with a band name chosen almost at random from the classic British sitcom Fawlty Towers. ("I'm from Barcelona" was the catch phrase for incompetent waiter Manuel.) However, when Lundgren self-released the EP (now titled Sing!!) in August, the popular response was enthusiastic enough to attract an offer from Swedish branch of EMI, who signed I'm from Barcelona that year. The band's blend of sunshiny choral vocals, chamber pop instrumentation (heavy on the horns, banjos, and accordions), and folk-influenced tunes earned I'm from Barcelona comparisons to the Polyphonic Spree, Sufjan Stevens, and the Flaming Lips, and developed an almost instantaneous online cult.
Released in early 2006, the Don't Give Up on Your Dreams, Buddy! EP featured the single "We're from Barcelona" and was followed several months later by the band's full-length debut, Let Me Introduce My Friends. Live incarnations of I'm from Barcelona depended upon how many of the 29 members could attend on any given date; occasionally, Lundgren and Swedish electronica artist Adventure Kid would perform all-electronic dates as a duo. The full group gathered together to record the decidedly more melancholy Who Killed Harry Houdini?, which was released in 2008. During the fall of that year, 27 members hit the road to support the album on tour; while playing shows across Europe, the band also began to work on 27 Songs from Barcelona, a 27-track album featuring one song per bandmate. After releasing the finished product in 2010, I'm from Barcelona returned to the studio and recorded their third "proper" album, 2011's Forever Today, in two live sessions. ~ Stewart Mason