Emil Svanängen has pushed his instrumentation and arrangement without sacrificing his sense of melody, and it's an intriguing step for him.
For his sixth album as Loney Dear, Swedish songwriter Emil Svanängen stretches his soundmaking skills. Hall Music occasionally features instrumentation that could clash, but Svanängen successfully blends them into lovely arrangements. The tone's the thing on this album -- it's memorable and impressive enough that Svanängen has to work to keep up as a lyricist and melodist. He doesn't fail in those regards, but once the album stops, the atmosphere remains more than any particular moments.
The album opens with an exception to that idea, but in a way that proves to be emblematic of Hall Music as a whole. On "Name", Svanängen sings, "I want your name... / I want your name / Next to mine." The simple melody and sparse backing here provide the album with one of its most beautiful and memorable sections. Svanängen develops this idea gently, and the song builds slowly, only hinting at orchestral presences. The song has an immediate hook, but it takes patience for the full impact to sink in, much as that opening line starts with a bit of misdirection before unveiling the singer's actual point.
That sort of structure adds some complexity and a well developed atmosphere to the songs, but it also ends up removing any sense of urgency from the songs. Not that Loney Dear was ever going to be mistaken for (or tries to be) that sort of driving act, but he was able to get a need across in his music. Some of the cuts on Hall Music just sort of sink into themselves. "Largo" shows promise, and the introduction of the tuba line into the church organ's piece is a challenging development, but the song never quite gains traction.
In Largo, Svanängen sings, "I used to talk quiet a lot," but that was never his M.O. as a recording artist. For bouncy closer "What Have I Become?" Svanängen forgoes talking altogether, handing the vocal duties over to bandmate Malin Ståhlberg. It's a nice change, and she delivers an excellent performance. The track itself is almost danceable, working against the reflective lyrics so that an odd optimism develops out of a somewhat bleak meditation. The lyrics twist enough that subtle changes, like whether "it's not okay" or "I'm not okay", move the song forward. In this context, when Ståhlberg sings that "sadness never was a choice" with the music playing, it's easy to get her point. The piece is composed well enough that you also can't forget her early thought, "In a land with a thousand seasides / I never really learned to swim at all / I really wanted to," as the background for her condition. The end feeling is complex, but the music carries away any burdens.
Hall Music's opener and closer offer the disc's finest moments, but, aside from a couple stumbles, the disc maintains a strong sense of sound throughout. Svanängen has pushed his instrumentation and arrangement without sacrificing his sense of melody, and it's an intriguing step for him.