[9 January 2014]
The Sounds have been pumping out some of the most catchy, melodic, and generally enjoyable pop/rock around since the early aughts. Their coolness did not come as a huge shock to those of us that pay attention to Scandinavian pop music. Why wouldn’t a major label Danish export be excellent? Nordic music is usually pretty awesome, especially the stuff that manages to gain enough credibility to expand beyond regional success. The Sounds sound sleek, modern, and well-crafted; as if they spend a great deal of time in the studio with hot-shot producers being paid vast quantities of cash. Much of what has been said about them tends to focus on the neo-new wave tag, but that description is kind of misleading. Yes, the Sounds’ singer, Maja Ivarsson, kind of looks like Debbie Harry, and yes, they sometimes sound kind of like Pat Benatar, but at this point in popular music history I am not sure that the genre descriptor new wave holds much water anymore. What you need to understand is that the Sounds write big, fist-pumping, synth happy pop songs, or rather, they use to. The Sounds’ new record Weekend sounds pretty darn uninspired.
The Sounds’ first three records Living in America, Dying to Say This to You, and Crossing the Rubicon were all a great deal of fun; super melodic, emotionally resonant, and catchy as a pack of herpes at bible camp. Nothing that we have not heard before you understand, but well executed, and fun. Weekend does not deviate from the formula much, but it lacks the songwriting and hooks of their previous releases. There was a really affective tension in the Sounds’ early music between the soulfulness and melancholy of the lyrics and vocals, and the snazzy, bright, almost overly produced music. Those records made you feel like you were all decked out in your coolest outfit and went to some super fancy club in the hippest neighborhood, but once you were there you were forced to watch the guy or girl you were secretly in love with make out with your best friend. Weekend lacks any of that tension; it feels bright, but flat, shiny, but shallow.
The Sounds are at a difficult place in their career. They have nailed their particular sound about as well as they can on previous releases, and now it is time to either challenge their listeners, or go home. On Weekend they choose not to do either. These songs are really just second and third rate versions of what they have already done. There is no good reason to listen to Weekend rather than Crossing the Rubicon or Dying to Say This to You; those earlier records feature a similar sound, but with much better songs. These songs run together without making any particular impression. The Sounds could have made a much more distinctly rock record, and challenged their listeners. They could have taken inspiration from fellow Scandinavians Icona Pop, whose fantastic 2013 record This Is… leaves Weekend hopelessly in the dust, and challenged their listeners with a more straight-ahead pop sound. The Sounds could have done any number of things at this point in their career in order to stay relevant, but instead the Sounds sound like they are just spinning their wheels.