Ah, Sweden: birthplace of cheap furniture, bearer of great meatballs, and bringer of wondrous pop music like fluttering delicate snowflakes.
Sub Pop's latest release comes in the form of an offering from Sweden's Emil Svanängen, one of those "I've never been in a relationship but damnit if I'm not lovesick" guys who writes and records prolifically while seated on the edge of a rumpled bed in his small apartment. His last three records saw distribution out of that same apartment, folded into envelopes by Svanängen himself. Sub Pop A&R discovered him at SXSW, where bedroom pop stars flock each year as if to Mecca.
Recording under the moniker Loney, Dear as opposed to his given name — pronunciation is key to marketability, after all — Svanängen's Sub Pop debut, Loney, Noir, announces his monikered self as a more Northern, and therefore more mystical, Sufjan Stevens. (Come to think of it, maybe pronunciation isn't that important. Right, Soof-yan?) Where Sufjan and company focus on narrative storytelling, Loney, Noir deals with a more confessional approach to the emotions accompanying the ends and beginnings of relationships: all that standard fodder for orchestral singer-songwriter composing.
From even farther north than the upper peninsula, Svanängen's Scandanavian accent and layered vocals give Loney, Noir a magical, Aurora Borealis-ish effect. With layers and layers of soothing texture crescendo-ing atop one another, Loney, Dear's soft melodies get echoed and inverted by oboes, flutes, piano, strings, electronics, saxophone, etc to create one giant cacophony that conjures dancing on a cloud or the soundtrack to a film about Tinkerbell's favorite flowers.
That being said, the music does not relegate itself to cutesy dream-pop. Rather, this fits firmly in the "elegant" adjectival category.
"I Am John," the first single, starts with the quiet announcement "Johnny and I got lost tonight, we got carried away," and from there the orchestral army slowly joins in around Svanängen's rhythmic vocals, carrying him, quite literally, away into a falsetto-ridden glockenspial-driven arena rock ending.
Catchy and fetching, Svanängen's Loney, Dear is sure to be a huge hit when this record hits shelves on February 6. Closing my eyes now and pressing play for "Saturday Waits," I see Emil Svanängen seated on the edge of his bed Sweden. There's an acoustic guitar on his lap, and he's beginning to play and sing quietly: "You sit in your room, looking over the sea, you've got friends over here…" — and as he does, a giant multi-colored rose blossoms forth from the sound hole. It's like a pedaled firework from which horns blast, glockenspiels hammer, and a choir of other Svanängens emerges; then we all float away in white angelic robes, the apartment disappearing around us until it is just us following the singer, sailing through a pink and blue sky on a dense carpet of melodic joyfulness.
The image could apply to every song on Loney, Noir. Each track pours out of the speakers like a warm blanket wrapping around shivering shoulders.
Elaborate metaphors aside, let me only say: Thank you, Sweden. Between Loney, Dear and my bookshelves, you've given me so much goodness.