Scandinavian dream-pop trio delivers one of the year's great records.
Following the release of a slew of critically acclaimed singles, the Stockholm, Sweden-based trio of Mia Brox Bøe, Joel Nyström Holm and Daniel Sjörs have delivered one of the year's essential records.Skyer, the debut album by the balearic, widescreen electro-pop group Postiljonen (roughly translated to "The Postman" from an archaic Swedish word that has since been replaced by "Brevbärare"), conjures up countless images of the "clouds" its Norwegian title refers to. The promotional team at Best Fit Recordings perfectly summed up the essence of the band; this truly is "summery dreampop for lazy days and dreamy nights."
Since forming in 2011, the Swedish-Norwegian trio has consistently been compared to French electronic band M83, now-defunct Swedish group Air France, JJ, Beach House and Cocteau Twins. That's a daunting list of artists to be associated with for any new artist or ensemble. While the similarities are noticeable throughout their 35-minute, nine-song debut, it's clear that Postiljonen have carved out a singular vision for themselves.
The world loves comparing apples to oranges for purposes of finding a way to describe how something tastes, appears or sounds, so I can understand why this trio has undergone countless comparisons to the music of their contemporaries, but it's time to end the M83 knock-off accusations once and for all. The only moments throughout the entire set I noticed any startling similarities between anything onSkyerand the output of M83 were in the final song "Atlantis", which sounds vaguely like a distant cousin of "Midnight City", and "Skying High", which features a child's voice, recalling "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire." That connection is tenuous at best.
Throwing in Miami Vice-like saxophones and incorporating a similar use of drum machines into a song doesn't equate mimicry. The voice of Anthony Gonzalez's musical partner in crime Morgan Kibby on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming and Saturdays = Youthparallels that of Cocteau Twin's Liz Frasier, not Ms. Bøe, so it's time to move forward from such petty allegations. If there is any legitimate comparison at all, I would say the music of Postiljonen sounds like a female-fronted counterpart to the Swedish duo the Sound of Arrows, if only for the breadth and scope of the skyward-bound, synth-drenched compositions both groups concoct.
Lead singer Mia Bøe has a voice of remarkable contrasts. One moment it's wispy and ethereal, floating high about it all, and the next she unleashes a lovely husky mezzo, enrobed in the '80s shoe-gazing synths, pulsing beats and retro-leaning sax solos. The disparity between the dark and light timbres of her voice truly encapsulate the spirit of the Italian word "chiaroscuro". There's a warmth and smokiness, yet also a bright resonance to be heard. I cannot deny my own impression that Bøe's voice sounds eminently similar to that of electro-acoustic, ambient singer-songwriter Liz Harris, commonly known as Grouper. I can't think of a higher compliment than that to be honest. Harris possesses one of the most beautiful voices in modern music and Bøe is a talented vocalist in her own right.
Throughout the unabashedly '80s-influenced set, Postiljonen's multi-instrumentalists Sjörs and Holm paint soundscapes that evoke images of handgliding through clouds or euphoric teen parties in a John Hughes film. It's all covered in a drifting, dreamy haze. Rarely are the vocals pulled into sharp focus, and as such, the lyrics are often obscured in a wash of synths. No matter though, because they aren't the main highlight. This music isn't about profound lyricism, as seen in the song "Supreme": "We are what we are. Hopelessly in love. The stars in our sky, never to unfold. When time takes us back the ocean turns to gold."
The songs of Skyer can be divided into two categories: Ambient, mood pieces and rapturous hands in the air, dance-oriented, club-friendly cuts. Audio clips from classic films (a Cary Elwes soundbite in "Plastic Panorama" from The Princess Bride, Breakfast at Tiffany's) are woven into the texture from time to time, surprisingly not detracting from the flow of the album. The yelping "Yeah" clip on second song "Help" runs dangerously into Lana Del Rey territory or something off of Moby's Play, but luckily doesn't derail the whole affair, unlike the overuse of saxophone and electric guitar solos. Their inclusion throughout the album was unnecessary, as the songs themselves are so well crafted that they didn't need to be smothered in garish instrumental solos.
The clear highlight of the record is a clever cover and homage to Whitney Houston, written and recorded around the time of her death. "All That We Had Is Lost" incorporates the verses of the R&B-pop gem "How Will I Know", slows down the tempo and injects a sense of poignant melancholy into the song, previously obscured by the glossy pop sheen of the production values in its former incarnation. It's one of countless stunning moments throughout Skyer. When the snow starts to fall this winter and I'm craving the sound of waves and the heat of the sun, I'll be pulling this out to get me through the cold nights. This gorgeous little pop record will be one I return to years from now.