[29 July 2009]
Lacrosse, an indie pop band from Stockholm, make the kind of music that you can sing along to and that you don’t feel bad about forgetting. On the other hand, you only have to say the title of their debut single, “No More Lovesongs”, to have the jangly chorus “No more lovesongs for you / No more songs at all for you…” swirling around one’s head maddeningly for hours. Lacrosse’s 2007 debut This New Year Will Be for You and Me had a few highlights like this—“(You’re on My) Fighting Side”, for one—that dressed up their sunny, easy-going pop in layers of radio-ready melody. But it was also one of those Scandinavian indie pop records that got buried under the boxes of other Scandinavian indie pop, overshadowed by the more distinctive sound of Peter Bjorn & John, the quirkier character of Jens Lekman, and the out-perk-them-all-iness of I’m from Barcelona.
The six-piece recorded their sophomore album with Jari Haapalainen, a Swede who’s worked with Camera Obscura and the Concretes and plays in an indie band called the Bear Quartet. The result isn’t so much a dissolution of Lacrosse’s early-established optimism as a streamlining of it. The new album is a full-sounding pop-rock record, shuttling between straight power pop and a few songs with an impressive finesse, but all safely contained in the guitar-keys-bass-drums axis of pop music. Still, that exuberance that lifted This New Year is all over Bandages for the Heart. And now the group has a defining statement—the title to the fifth track here, “I See a Brightness”, a fantastic appropriation of Will Oldham’s oppressive ballad of a disappointed life.
But if they were shooting for something opposite to Oldham (or Cash) but equally affecting, Lacrosse falls a bit short. Their new material drifts too close to the prosaic and, singing in a second language, their reliance on cliché undercuts the emotional impact of their lyrics. On “You Are Blind”, the chorus—shouted together in the group’s occasionally repeated effort at anthem-writing—goes “A penny for your thoughts and a million for your love”, which somehow just doesn’t sit right. Likewise, the phrase that gets repeated in the title track is “Love goes when it dies”; unconnected to any other word/phrase, we’re left to wonder what “it” is referring to, exactly.
But we all know that failed English can be super charming, and when combined with a killer pop hook, Lacrosse is as good as any of those bands mentioned above (except maybe Jens). “We Are Kids”, an effective first single, picks up where “No More Lovesongs” left off, all polish, high spirits, and glitter. That thrill of a new crush gets a fond re-telling in “Come Back Song #1”, full of shouted happiness and elation without the slightest hint of irony. And “My Stop”, a more serious and more substantial song, tackles suicide with greater intensity than the group has demonstrated before. Despite its homilies, the song somehow makes you stop, momentarily, to consider exactly what they’re talking about—which is effective songwriting, to say the least.
Kristian Dahl and Nina Waha, the principal vocalists, thankfully avoid that boy-girl call-response that seems to be all over soft-pop these days. But they do share something with the other indie-pop boy-girl groups like Matt & Kim or the Bird and the Bee. That is, in relying on a single emotion and a relatively limited sonic palette, sustaining interest across an album proves difficult. There are some shining moments, sure. But those moments leave you wishing for something with a bit more depth.