‘E’ by Ecco2k: Swedish Sensation Crafts Atmospheric Masterpiece


by Elliott Russo, Freelance Writer

In late 2019, British-Swedish singer Zak Arogundade stunned the music world by releasing his innovative studio debut, “E.”  This album had been highly anticipated, but it represented a change in direction for Arogundade – previously, the artist had been, in the words of Pitchfork Magazine, “in the service of other people’s visions”.  While serving as creative director for the legendary multi-faceted cloud rap group Drain Gang, many had long suspected that Arogundade was the most talented of the collective, though he largely hid from the public eye, only giving the occasional cameo on a posse cut or a feature on tracks of his friends. E smashed its own lofty expectations; Arogundade deftly combined the group’s previous cloud rap style with an experimental electro-pop vision board.

Vocally, Arogundade’s airy voice quivers over the spacey beats like the outpouring of the world’s most screwed up music box, with the melodies delivered by an angel in a pitch-black Prada suit.  He shakingly croons the soundtrack to a ketamine-fueled downward spiral.  The fashion designer’s indifferent, lethargic vocals leave the listener feeling void of anything at all without coming across as all that hopeless.

On the other side of the studio’s glass, Drain Gang collaborators Micke Berlander and Ludwig Rosenberg, known as Gud and Whitearmor respective, put together a performance for the ages, with an antiseptic combination of synths pulled from test tubes and keyboards dipped in corrosive acid.  The album’s hazy production contributes majestically to the feeling the lyrics are perpetuating – the feeling of floating through the sky, existing in the world as a passenger, closer to a ghost than anything tangible.

Lyrically, Arogundade shines, putting together a brutally honest depiction of drug use.  The frequency with which he references humanity’s dark underbelly manufactures near-normalization, without ever glorifying the tranquilizers he had to take to conjure something of this ilk.  Rather than ever compelling his listeners to partake, he artfully constructs an inescapable cocoon of numbness.

“E” serves as Arogundade’s cathartic scream into a radar machine, trying to scan for life in a world that has long since deserted him.  The drug-fueled Swedish hyperpop sensation creates a bitingly beautiful, effulgent cloud of sterile androgyny and indifference through repetition and unending materialism.

The classic album opens up with the frustratingly simple “AAA Powerline,” on which Arogundade lazily chants the same four enigmatic lines over and over again.  However, this hazy overture, once unlocked, serves as an excellent opener. This mantra sees the Swede grapple head-on with his intravenous demons, as he succumbs slowly to the will of the “rocks.” Arogundade describes himself as in the “backseat of some car,” and being “zip-tied up (can’t move my arms),” implying that there is a different driver at the wheel of his life.  He starts the album with a lack of control, a repeated theme throughout the album.

The tracklist immediately spirals down into the goosebump-inducing lead single, “Peroxide.”  Originally, listeners’ ears are soothed with twenty-two seconds of the soundtrack to purgatory, before subdued high-hats explode onto the blank canvas as if they were breaking through a window.  Arogundade’s silence continues for a similar length of time, after which he bombastically declares that he is back “at the bus stop, crushing rocks.”

Over the spastic opening verse, Arogundade details his experiences as veritably the lone black man in all of Sweden.  The song manages to feel incredibly stressful due to drums that match an irregular heartbeat, which matches the song’s main theme – being forced to deal with how miserable he feels.  As the son of a Nigerian, he provides a unique perspective on this song.  Due to the stigma associated with black people, Arogundade feels he is unfairly seen as overly masculine and violent, with the hydrogen peroxide he uses to bleach his hair the only part of himself seen as white, or pure.

It is through this song that the true message of this album becomes apparent: Ecco2k, the artist, is stuck in a vicious paradox. As a black man in Sweden, he is torturously conflicted.  He is tired of being an inkblot on a blank canvas and wants nothing more than to fade into the background of society. However, he also worried that his identity as a black man is the one thing keeping him from becoming a ghost in a haze of drugs.

The next track, “Fragile,” passes by in relative obscurity, reflecting largely the same sentiments as the lead single.  Arogundade expresses a need to be tethered to something, which eventually takes the form of drugs. However, when he inevitably overdoses on ketamine, he starts to lose control again.

From there, listeners are thrust into Arogundade’s most pop-influenced song yet, the airy, repetitive “Fruit Bleed Juice.”  At just over a minute, the track does not overstay its welcome, but, for a brief period, his audience is thrust into an alluring whirlwind of birds chirping mixed with powerful drums.  Very little appears to happen on the spacious ode, which first inconspicuously hides itself as a love song.  However, in the singular verse, Arogundade makes reference to Kendrick Lamar and Tupac Shakur with the refrain “It tastes like nectar (the darkest fruit).”  The Swede is calling upon the passionate, anthemic statements on race in America made by the pair of Californians, on which they both displayed their disgust towards racists.  Arogundade echoing these ideas only further complicates his feelings about his own race.

The most interesting aspect of this generally unassuming run does not appear on a song at all, but rather as an interlude.  On “Bliss Fields,” the rapper briefly monologizes “I feel like I’m flying and sinking at the same time / like I’m being pulled from below and from above / In every direction, at once”.  This short lyrical motif serves as a thesis statement for the entire album – Arogundade has become so lost in the haze of ketamine that he has completely lost control of his own destiny.  However, “Cc” depicts him taking back some semblance of control, as he realizes the crux of the matter – while he cannot maintain command during his highs, he does have power over when he actually gets high.  Arogundade takes this modicum of success as absolute mastery of his addiction, certainly a faulty assumption.  Tragically, his illusion does not last long.

Suddenly, on “Calcium”, Arogundade wakes up in the same backseat detailed in “AAA Powerline,” tightly handcuffed to a fleeting holographic reflection of himself, erratically gliding down a road of blood orange windows caked with unnaturally bleached snow, with no recollection of how he arrived or became covered in the malaise of his own perfume.  As the mirror image starts to fade, he realizes the copy is the only thing keeping him tethered in the real world; Arogundade screams in desperation as the second row begins to fade.  He suddenly transports back to the sterile room that he tried so hard to escape, and the lone speaker in the room blares nothing but the phrase “Double K crystals kiss my nose.”

It is rare on classic albums such as “E” for one song to stand out so drastically from the rest, but the seventh track manages to do exactly that, expertly crafting the feeling of frantic eruption that falling back into an addiction creates.  As he convulses over this pinnacle of production, Arogundade personifies relapse better than almost any artist before him, proclaiming in the song’s legendary opening verse: “Think I fell for someone, oh, what’s going on? …/… Oh and it’s just me and myself, just the two of us / spend some time alone with you now, you’re my only one”.  Even when the songwriter is bent on crushing his addiction beneath his self-designed Eytys Spider shoes, he proves unable to completely break away from the thing that has come to define him, even as it slowly envelops him into its all-encompassing cloud of milky white fugue.

After the album’s unorthodox mid-run climax, its back half serves as a slow burn back down the slide of addiction, largely mirroring the first half of the record.  In this manner, the next track, Sugar & Diesel, largely reflects the concepts expressed on “Fruit Bleed Juice,” examining addiction through the intersectional lens of race.  From there, in opposition to the previous track, Don’t Ask has nothing to do with the sentiment of “Fruit Bleed Juice,” but is very similar in its sound.  One of the few tracks on the record with no percussion, Arogundade’s comforting articulations detail a collapsing relationship.  While very uncomplicated in scope, it provides a well-earned break from the fast-paced madness of the songs of Side A.  

The next few songs largely continue this theme of a relationship, with “Security’s” automotive synths and “Time’s” hard-hitting 808s only furthering his sorrow.  In addition, both of these tracks further the album’s motif of repetition.  This can be interpreted in a number of ways, with the most generous being that it represents relapse.  However, more likely, Arogundade was attempting to create an atmosphere through chanting.

“Blue Eyes,” the explosive conclusion of “E”, vaguely parallels the lead single, but with a strange, ugly twist.  Its tortured feedback represents him finally letting his emotions out, breaking the veneer of calm that has haunted him throughout the last half-hour, using listeners as a pillow to scream into.  Arogundade feels outcast by his friends, both due to his addiction and his race.  While it is the shortest true song on the record, it still provides a cathartic finish to what is undoubtedly a very taxing album.

Despite minor issues, such as the album’s pacing, Ecco2k’s “E” is an irrefutable masterpiece that perfectly encapsulates the downward spiral of drug abuse, and the indifference it creates.  Arogundade’s detached vocals paired with the cold production of his peers create a phenomenal, atmospheric piece that should be experienced by anyone.