Loney, Dear is the solo project of Swedish musician Emil Svanängen. The last time I saw him play was in 2009, he was accompanied on stage by four other musicians on various instruments. At that time, he was also signed to Sub Pop records. Things have changed a bit in the past few years: fast forward to 2012 and Svanängen has released his sixth full length record Hall Music, and for the most part is taking the stage as a solo act. Although the last several Loney Dear albums have not strayed far from his familiar path in terms of sound, he has managed to craft records that are remarkably consistent in both sound and quality.
For an artist that’s been around as long as Loney, Dear has, Chop Suey was surprisingly only about half full this past Saturday night. That could (in part) be attributed to the fact that Seattleites also had the option of seeing either indie faves of Montreal or Nada Surf on the same night, so it may have just been unfortunate timing. For those who attended, they were certainly glad they did. Only an accordion player joined Svanängen on stage, providing background vocals on several songs, which was a nice addition to some of the songs on Hall Music that were not present on the recorded version. The biggest difference between Loney, Dear now and the Loney, Dear of the past is the set up: in 2009 Svanängen was joined on stage by four other musicians, allowing him to focus mainly on both his guitar and his fantastic vocal contributions. This show was mostly just Svanängen with his shoes off, an acoustic guitar, and a number of pedals. Given the almost-one-man-band setting, he did find ways to make his sound layered and much fuller-sounding than you’d expect. For most of the songs he used a pedal to loop his sounds, and add layers upon layers until he had what sounded like a full band. Often he would start with a guitar riff, then add a bass line, then move over to a small drum kit and add some cymbal and drum rhythms to the mix, seamlessly building it into a fantastic crescendo before gently taking all the layers away one by one. In addition to being quite a treat for the ears, it’s also a fascinating thing to watch.
What hasn’t changed over the years is Svanängen voice: it’s often a smooth falsetto that he's learned to use in such a fantastic way. In the middle of songs he’ll often build up to a yell, somewhat similar to Jonsi of Sigur Ros, pulling his mouth away from the mic as he does to make it sound as if he’s yelling from across the room. It also gives the effect of moving his vocals from the speakers above your head to the stage right in front of you, and Svanängen’s voice is absolutely piercing when he does this — enough to give you goose bumps. Adding to the intimacy is Svanängen’s very good-natured persona. During the Bahamas set, he could be seen walking around the floor talking to various people and signing the occasional album, not something you see from a headliner at a lot of shows these days. He also had a very conversational demeanor, giving background stories to some of the songs, even commenting after giving a little intro to one of his songs about love: “This is the way that it sounds.” Upping the intimacy factor another notch was the fact that the show took place at Chop Suey, as 2009’s Loney Dear show was held at the Crocodile.
The beauty of shows like these is that when the fancy light shows and pyrotechnics are stripped away, you’re left with a very full-hearted man bearing his soul for an audience that couldn’t be happier to be sharing that moment with him in that place and time. It was an engaging series moments, and ones that I’m sure Loney, Dear audiences experience quite often.
Toronto band Bahamas took the stage second — Bahamas is the solo project of Afie Jurvanen, who has a history of playing in other bands, notably with the Stills, Amy Millan, and Feist. Jurvanen was joined on stage by a pair of backup singers who added a nice harmony to his electric guitar-laden songs. A drummer usually accompanies him as well, but as he pointed out towards the end of his set, his drummer had recently become a father and was back home tending to his newborn baby. At times, Jurvanen sounded just a bit like Daniel Rossen (Grizzly Bear, Department of Eagles) with his slowed-down chamber-pop guitar and crooning vocals. Opening up the show was Red Jacket Mine, typically a three-piece band. On this night however, it was just front man Lincoln Barr (who also plays guitar in Seattle power-pop band Stag) alone on stage, with an electric guitar in front of about 20 people. The sparse setup gave his set a cool, open-mic coffee-shop feel.