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(Minty Fresh; US: 4 May 2004; UK: 10 Jun 2003)

Pop, Fizz

The Swedish band Komeda—Lena Karlsson, Marcus Holmberg, and Jonas Holmberg—serve up instant gratification pop. Their fourth full length, Kokomemedada (arriving here in the states a year after its release overseas), works like a sugar rush to the senses. Its sickly sweet sensibilities have a dizzying effect on the head and latch onto the hips like a carb-heavy breakfast. And expectedly, like the sugar rush it so gleefully resembles, its charm wears off slowly, bringing its featherweight idealism to a halt and leaves you wondering where the good feeling went.

Kokomemedada begins with a heady and magnificent 1-2-3-4 punch. “Nonsense” is a spacious and patient opener, unfolding like an early Sunday morning. Starting with a chorused acoustic guitar and Karlsson’s licentious voice, the band gradually adds glockenspiel, vibes, and warm keyboards that ring out like a mature music box. Karlsson’s acrimonious lyrics—“I don’t like your company / So sick of you / Don’t want to be your friend no more / Leave me alone”—provide sharp contrast to the song’s buoyant flow.

“Blossom (Got to Get It Out)” is a lo-fi locomotive, chugging along like the soundtrack to a cult B-movie. Karlsson’s vocals, distorted and purring, bring to mind PJ Harvey performing at a ‘60s go-go dance party. It’s this year’s grooviest single to date and impossible not to like. By the time the call and response section begins (the robotic male backing vocals chant “We got to make a better day”), you’ll be merrily twisting around the living room. (This song originally appeared in a different version on Heroes & Villians: Music Inspired by the Powerpuff Girls—Blossom being the name of the lead Powerpuff—but this reimagined version is more elastic and infectious.)

With its slap bass, hand claps and indulgent “ahhh"s, “Victory Lane” is the most decadently delicious of Kokomemedada‘s tracks. “No one gets too old to learn a new way of getting stupid,” Karlsson croons over the song’s distinctly New Wave pastiche. “We’ve got a need for speed / To dash for cash / To get ahead from the pits / To victory lane”. Perhaps it’s an ordinary metaphor, but Karlsson is able to saturate the vocal performance with a swooning urgency that renders the exact words inconsequential.

“Fade In Fade Out” rides a Portishead groove of keyboards and drums. Karlsson’s dueling vocal lines in the chorus vibrantly dance around each other, finally assimilating into honeyed harmony. The lyric reinforces the track’s meditative fragility: “Below my breath a spoken word / A word in pain is never heard / Peace of mind fade in fade out / Frame of mind fade in fade out”.

Jonas Holmberg’s lead vocal on “Catcher” is where Kokomemedada‘s sugar buzz begins to hint at impending regret. Holmberg, who sings like a long-lost brother of both Ray Davies and Jacques Dutronc, has a weighted, moody voice that stands in stark contrast to Karlsson’s. The song has a good melody, but it’s quite jarring to hear this new voice out of the blue. (And frankly, Karlsson possesses such a luminous voice that it’s a shame not to utilize it on every track.)

Subsequent songs fail to live up to the expectations created in the album’s first half. “Out from the Rain”, despite the Pet Sounds-inspired ambitions of its chorus, never really gains enough momentum to leave the ground. “Dead” is prototypical lazy afternoon electro-pop, and by the time it arrives, the band sounds like it’s coming down from a high as well. “Reproduce” thinly disguises the melody from Canned Heat’s “Going up the Country” in between an onslaught of annoying video game bleeps.

A valiant effort is made to reclaim the reeling allure of the first four songs with “Brother”, which comes late in the album. The song harkens back to the airy dream state of “Nonsense”, but at this point, it’s difficult to realize the aspiration. It’s almost impossible to think that the band can do any wrong following such a strong opening, so it comes as a disappointment when the album trades its command of ethereal craftsmanship for something more ordinary and earthly. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find many other pop bands that can create a stunning handful of gems like Komeda can—when they’re on, they’re untouchable, and such precipitous heights are worth reaching for.

Zeth Lundy has been writing for PopMatters since 2004. He is the author of Songs in the Key of Life (Continuum, 2007), and has contributed to the Boston Phoenix, Metro Boston, and The Oxford American. He lives in Boston.

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