Love Is All remains determinedly buoyant on its sophomore album, hiding disappointment in veiled reference, and undermining the brightness of its melodies with the trademark atonal screech of saxophone and guitar.
You know when you hear an album described as a “grower", it’s usually a sophomore album, and it’s usually nowhere as good as the first. Well, though A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night may not hit as viscerally the melodic highs of Nine Times That Same Song, the Swedish group’s second album is surely comparably great.
We’ll forgive this year’s Love Is All ... Mixed Up, a throwaway remix album recapitulating Studio’s already-released version of “Turn the Radio Off” and leaning on Hot Chip for an inevitably rowdy remix of “Felt Tip”. The real action was happening in the studio, where the Gothenburg five-piece were honing another 30 minutes of pure art-rock fun, covered by the atonal squeal of James Ausfahrt’s rogue saxophone.
If Nine Times That Same Song tackled love’s myriad fall-ins and fall-outs, A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night presents a more singular response to that same familiar rollercoaster. Buoyed by Josephine Olausson’s cleaner-recorded voice, the Swedish group are determined, above anything, to be upbeat. Olausson finds herself, on “Last Choice”, alone at the end of a party, repeating -- “He’s not my type and I’m not his, but I’m sure he’s alright to ...”. Coyly leaving out the punchline, Olausson barrels forward, somehow making loser sex into a singalong anthem. So, Love is All has retained its charm. Actually, this vivacity’s a mirror of the band's live show, which brushes away much of the echoing doubt that washed through the debut album. There’s a sacrifice here, and it’s that marvelously intriguing, echoed sound that invited the listener to dig around, to casually discover the band’s many charms. A Hundred Things flattens that sound; neither the guitars nor Olausson herself are shrouded by echoes hardly at all, and the recording, while it retains the tinny, scratchy quality of a home recording, is at first less interesting. Think of it as a different way the group’s keeping you on your toes, though. Wouldn’t be fun if it was too easy, would it?
That’s not to say there aren’t almost immediately rewarding hits here. Surely “Movie Romance”, in a month or so, is going to rival “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You” for indie dance party staple. It’s the closest the group comes to a re-up of “Felt Tip”, gleefully brandishing its anthemic chorus, “I laugh in the face of", -- and Olausson pauses dramatically -- “movie romance". “When Giants Fall” plays like a synthesizer soccer anthem, almost cowed by loneliness and separation. Still, the singer never reaches that point of utter despair from “Turn the Radio Off”, where she cut out the world completely.
We even get to hear Olausson sing, for real, instead of her usual shouted delivery. “A More Uncertain Future” reveals a slight, squeaky voice reminiscent of Joanna Newsom. The cute duet undermines the form with deliberately off-key tuning and, oh yeah, the song’s a complete rejection.
So, Love Is All remain determinedly buoyant, hiding disappointment in veiled reference, and undermining the brightness of its melodies with the trademark atonal screech of saxophone and guitar. Don’t think A Hundred Things isn’t nuanced, though. Though the overall tenor of the album’s resolutely cheerful, the band communicates an underlying uncertainty through (among other things) a neat trick of timing. On “Big Bangs, Black Holes, Meteorites”, e.g., the group speeds up slightly just before the verse sets out. You’re not sure if they’re going to spin off the rails, momentarily -- but it turns out the thing keeping Olausson up at night, this time, isn’t love but the mysteries of physics -- a metaphor for the world’s chaotic emptiness, perhaps. Love might not just be all, this time. Which turns out just fine.