Loney, Dear: Dear John

Swedish singer-songwriter Emil Svanangen returns as Loney, Dear with his fifth album.


Dear John

Display Artist: Loney, Dear
Label: Polyvinyl
US Release Date: 2009-01-27
UK Release Date: 2009-03-02

The poster for Andrew Bird and Loney, Dear's upcoming Salt Lake City concert (they're touring the U.S. together this January and February) shows, in a simple but effective design, veins and arteries snaking out from a heart across a map of America. The metaphor of intertwined vessels is sort of apt, for Loney, Dear's songs wander down unexpected back-alleys, twisting into surprising melodies and exploring the corners of a melancholy/reflective mind.

True, he's always been melancholy/reflective, but on his fifth album, the Swedish singer-songwriter's ambition's expanded. Rather than remain content to craft bewitching miniatures of repetitive folk-pop, Emil Svanangen has found new possibilities in a synth-laden orchestral-pop sound. Using a musical vocabulary pinched from groups like (notably) Death Cab for Cutie, Loney, Dear still manages to sound fresh. He still manages to sound, that is, like Loney, Dear.

Dear John is a more adult record than Loney, Dear has previously made. I don't mean adult in the way you hear, say, Badly Drawn Boy described: "adult pop". That means some staid middle-of-road acoustics. Dear John's adultness is manifest in a back-alley sense of stained misadventure. These songs are the accompaniment to the time after -- after a big night out, rebuffed, walking home alone; after the Murray-Johansen kiss, when he's driven away, waiting for his plane home; after failed love, when Svanangen falls "twelve stories to the ground". They reference Bach and Tom Waits. Thunder rumbles in the background.

On Sologne, Loney, Dear's last album, a song appeared called "The Airport, the City". It bounced forward on repetitive synth-layers, and Svanangen's thin falsetto, when it exploded into a shouted-out chorus, was pure joy. That song's got a successor, Dear John's first single and kick-off, "Airport Surroundings". The songs share more than title vocab: both are superb examples of the musician in optimistic mode, all layer-on-layer and pep. But "Airport Surroundings" twinkles brighter, and more conventional. Instead of an interlude cut through with dissonance and chaos, there's syncopated horn, pizzicato, and high organ.

Why do these songs work? It's because they move unexpectedly. "Under a Silent Sea", for example, becomes twinkling electronica from soft Auto-Tune folk, somehow seamlessly. "Summers" captures some weird alternate-reality where Coldplay, Boy Least Likely To, and some synth-pop group from Europop radio collide, and come out as setting-sun nostalgia. Throughout, Svanangen's use of tools like Auto-Tune and that martial drum machine give the LP a very modern feel. But the coup-de-grace -- the reason, if you're looking for one, to seek out this album -- is a song called "Harm". The song's rootless melody gradually turns into an almost-cover (first of Bach, then later of Waits' "Alice") and a thrilling, unexpected climax.

It's not easy to pinpoint what it is about Dear John that has such a powerful, lasting effect. Its tools are exceedingly familiar, but the results aren't -- don't think Loney, Dear's latest direction has been cribbed from anywhere. Let it sink in, and Loney, Dear soon whispers/sings/shouts out. This one's worth hearing.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.