[21 March 2007]
Much has been made of the Canadian music scene in recent years. For a population a mere tenth of that of its southern neighbors, the country has contributed a bounty of artists to the independent music community. Arcade Fire, Tokyo Police Club, Broken Social Scene, Feist, Wolf Parade… the list goes on. It’s hard to say why Canada has such a vibrant independent music scene, and arguments range from better public programs for the arts to the embrace of multiculturalism to that indefinable “something in the water.” But whatever it is, Sweden has concentrated it because frankly, with a population just over the 9 million mark their remarkable creative prowess may have the Canadians beat. Peter Bjorn and John, Jose Gonzales, The Knife, and Love is All are just some of the Swedish-based acts that have made waves worldwide in the past year. This, of course, isn’t taking into consideration their vibrant rock and roll scene or considering the lasting impact of ABBA and the Cardigans still have.
While the debate on cultural significance can be as lengthy as it would be pointless, for those who wish to engage in that battle, another notch under Sweden can be added with Loney, Dear, the working name of multi-instrumentalist Emil Svanangen. Much like fellow Swede Jens Lekman, Svanangen made his name by self-recording and self-distributing his own albums on CD-Rs. With a few thousand sold and growing attention by the mainstream press in Sweden, America and more specifically, Sub Pop came knocking. Originally released in 2005, Loney, Noir is an elegant album of earnest indie pop that will make you wonder where Svanangen has been all your life.
Bearing your heart, in plain language, in a pop format can be devilishly tricky. At worst, you come off sounding like a bad poet, espousing clichés that ring with more insincerity than truth. And thought it’s hard to tell what exactly makes the words out of one artist’s mouth sound more genuine than if they came out of someone else’s, there is nothing that Svanangen is singing that doesn’t seem be coming from experience or honesty. To be sure, his subject matter isn’t original in the least. Focusing almost exclusively on relationships, Svanangen navigates loss, love, and hope with piercing straightforwardness. Through these songs, it comes clear that Svanangen is a lover and a fighter, describing a sensitivity that is tempered by the strength of risking everything.
Likewise, the music is delicate, building to momentous peaks and accented by sturdy hooks. The key to these songs are gentle arrangements that build organically from the guitar based centers. Horns, reeds, organs, and careful backing vocals never overpower the songs but are used like curtains around a window. The disc opens with the one-two punch of “Sinister in a State of Hope” and “I Am John”. The former is slow builder, a graceful trot to its mini-orchestrated finish. The latter was chosen as the disc’s lead single and it’s hard not to see why. It’s almost relentlessly upbeat but the real magic doesn’t come until the latter third, when the vocals kick up an octave (eat your heart out Mariah) and with Svanangen singing “I want your arms around me, and I’m never gonna let you down” you want to reach out to the person nearest to you and squeeze them as hard as you can. While the disc pretty much sticks with its formula, the songs are so winning and the album so brief (at just over a half hour) you hardly notice.
As I type this, winter is ending in Montreal, with the coldest weather hopefully behind us, and with spring right around the corner, Loney, Dear has arrived at the right time. And it’s the kind of music perfect for those unexpected days in March when you can wear a t-shirt during the day, but in the evening you need to wrap up in a favorite sweater. This is the smell of a new season, when the snow is melting and that first crack of early sunlight is waking you up. This is the goosebumps when a lover sneaks up from behind and covers your eyes. In other words, this is essential.