Lose your popular lead singer and who knows what’ll happen to your band. You and your bandmates can flounder for several years before hiring a Filipino guy you first heard on YouTube to belt out universally-adored rock ballads (Journey). You could find a capable replacement who lacks your ex-lead singer’s affinity for spandex, and feel grateful you can ride your talented guitarist to massive commercial success (Van Halen). Or, after growing tired of reading about your co-frontman’s recent rehab stint in the British tabloids, you can start a new band without him, but one with similar punk sensibilities (The Libertines).
After losing singer and founding member Victoria Bergsman in 2006, Stockholm’s the Concretes plowed ahead, intent on avoiding the post-break-up pity party. Now led by Lisa Milberg, the band’s longtime drummer, the Concretes dropped Hey Trouble less than a year after Bergsman’s departure. (The album, however, never got an official US release.) The band members hadn’t yet charted a new course for themselves, so they mostly stuck to the musical formula—equal parts sparse arrangements and layers of reverb, joyful harmonies and sour moods—that had worked during Bergsman’s decade-long tenure with the group. Hey Trouble sounded like the band had aimed to record a greatest hits record in one studio session. It was a doomed effort that lacked the cohesion of a proper LP—and that only made Bergman’s absence more palpable. That letter (email, text, call, etc.) you feel you have to send your ex right after the break-up? You might just want to keep it to yourself.
Turns out that time heals all wounds: the Concretes’s latest effort, WYWH, is the sound of a more confident band crossing new musical terrain (and with a new label, Friendly Fire). The album is mostly beefy bass stomps, shiny keyboards, and slow-turning disco balls. Think Parallel Lines-era Blondie on Quaaludes, with more cowbell and less guitars. The new vibe suits Milberg’s breathy vocals—she’s never sounded like she’s in a hurry to get anywhere—and that makes the whole album feel unforced. (Milberg has had a chance to refine her chops since Hey Trouble, releasing a solo album last year.)
WYWH opens with “Good Evening”, a track that starts off slow and spooky before new drummer Dante Kinnunen propels the track to a lively close. The next track, “My Ways”, gives us a better sense of the new-look Concretes, with a cowbell keeping time over a hefty bass line. During the glorious handclaps-filled chorus, Millberg promises in a brittle voice, “Honey, if you take me back, I will change”.
“What We’ve Become” is a highlight, which name drops Squeeze after a fittingly delectable New Wave intro. Strokes-like guitars sound at home on the track. The remainder of the album never seems one-dimensional. The band has some dance aspirations, though the results are mixed: while “All Day” is a smooth number, “Knck Knck” shimmies and sputters. “Oh My Love” is the odd tune of the bunch, a lovely ode to Concretes songs of the past (one that echoes the twee indie pop of their countrymen, Acid House Kings). The song does make you miss the bright group hug harmonies from 2006 album In Colour, but songs like “Crack in the Paint” and “Sing for Me” are firm reminders that WYWH was meant to be a mostly melancholy affair.
“WYWH” is a clumsy acronym, but the shorthand scribble suits the band’s intentions perfectly. “You and I were just a postcard / Wish you were here”, Milberg sings on the final track. Don’t read too much into that comment; it’s nothing more than a slight nod to the past. With their new disco grooves and darker shades, the Swedish octet has stepped into the sunlight.