Note to Sweden: I’m on my way. Any country that produces H&M, ABBA, IKEA and has universal healthcare is obviously onto something that we poor Americans just are not.
Add to that list the delightful Ray Wonder, a hyperactive cousin of the Cardigans that’s armed and ready to inspire love, adoration, and joy, joy, joy! A New Kind of Love is a romp around the playground of musical quips, and baby, it’s all baubles, all beads, and all brilliance.
The band blasts out of the gate with the album’s opener, “Mistreated”, a 2:45 kaleidoscope of off-kilter rhythms, sinewy bass, crazed guitars, and vocal hurly-burly. Offering a tongue-in-cheek take on modern love, the music drives urgently toward the chorus: “If I ever get mistreated / I don’t want to be mistreated wrong”, ending the verse with a guitar twang that mirrors the irony of the lyrics. The song repeats this strategy, interweaving shifts in time and attitude—one second desperate, the next frantic, the next disaffected. It’s the kind of song that evokes a different mood at every encounter—a made-to-order, hormonally charged bundle of sheer release.
Following it is the much more straightforward “We’ve Got to be Good to Each Other”, a bubblegum-pop gem that sounds almost like the Partridge Family would if they were catapulted into the 21st century. And Ray Wonder’s nimble quality—whether shifting gears within one song or from one song to the next—is the lodestar that guides them just about anywhere. You believe this song’s sunny mandate, after which it is named, as much as you revel in the landscape of the album’s loungey instrumental (“Cad II”) or savor the eccentric narrative of “Homemade Movie Queen”. There’s also a swinging, beachy number (“Wish Me Luck”), a space-age bossa nova (“Make You Go Away”), and a cameo by Cardigans’ lead singer, Nina Persson.
Ray Wonder sallies forth with tricks and turns so completely and so convincingly that they make you smile, feel, and ride proudly on the current of their whimsy. The occasional strings, the bright harmonies, the circusy keyboards, the vocals pushed at times to pubescent limits—all of this woven together with confident playing and stellar production, making every moment a pleasure. A New Kind of Love covers a territory not unlike Blur’s The Great Escape—sans the bitter commentary about England, that is.
So pack your bags, prepare your papers, and start checking the flight schedules for Stockholm. Because if you’re moved by the fancy and the fanciful, with one listen, you’re gonna wanna be wherever they are.
// Notes from the Road
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