Loney Dear’s music has a knack for tapping into elemental sorrows and happenstance joys.
Sweden’s Loney Dear, the melancholy moniker for multi-instrumentalist Emil Svanängen, was first introduced to American audiences when Sub Pop re-issued his self-released Loney, Noir in 2007. Polyvinyl then picked him up for 2009’s fabulously trippy, yet somber Dear John and the orchestral, appropriately named Hall Music in 2011. Six years later, Svanängen has returned after a very protracted break, especially from someone who started out recording albums in his home and self-releasing them annually. His self-titled seventh album culls strobing synth ground reminiscent of Dear John and introduces beguiling darkness into his music.
Where Dear John balanced ethereal from Svanängen, trippy synthpop and layer upon layer of drum machine and backing vocals, culminating in wailing arrangements that threatened to, but never did, became too busy, Loney Dear still flirts with the line between busy noise and sweet electronic melody. Opener “Pun” is a callback to the likes of “Everything Turns to You,” building this wild, swirling track on somewhat tribalesque percussion, initially gentle vocals from Svanängen that morph into soaring bellows, insistent beeping not unlike radar and raucous, incomprehensible wailing. “Humbug” likewise is built around a stuttering synth, twinkling keys and Svanängen’s beguiling falsetto. On the bridge, a sweeping, romantic synth line layers over the hyperkinetic jittering and leads into Svanängen’s nostalgic verses.
After such an unrelenting open to the album, “Hulls” is a welcome change that reminds us that Loney Dear isn’t all about the multilayered arrangements but puts as much emphasis on his ruminative lyrics. On this track, his tender vocals take precedence over the blippy synth, singing a bittersweet apology to a former lover for the dark side of himself that tore them apart: “He is a madman, he is my trouble/ He’s my sadness, he is my burden.” Even starker is the hauntingly beautiful “Isn’t It You?” which pairs somber vocals with a periodic synth, barely audible acoustic guitar and echoing harmonium. The pastoral instrumentation complements the struggle of being overwhelmed by love: “Is this the one?/ And how do you do?/ I cannot see clearly/ But isn’t it you?” The pattern is somewhat repeated on the oddly titled “There Are Several Alberts Here” when Svanängen hums “I wasn’t looking when I found you” against the backdrop of the low thrum of a harmonium and horns.
Loney Dear’s music has a knack for tapping into elemental sorrows and happenstance joys. “Isn’t It You?” and “There Are Several Alberts Here” are inherently reflections on happy moments, but Svanängen’s delivery doesn’t give into this pleasure with the expected, exultant chorus; he maintains his melancholy tone despite seeming incongruities. But none of these tracks are ever completely joyous stories either. There is always a tinge of burden to overcome. Svanängen’s falsetto on “Sum” and the backing children’s choir is the closest the album comes to celebration. Lyrically, the song calls for something more engaged from him: “It’s a long way coming. No more regrets all’s done/ It is paid by time for now/ It’s a lot of let downs, it’s a lot of crying/ But the past was overcome/ Sum it up. It’s all been done/ Someone forgives you. What’s done is done.” Call it resigned hopefulness.
Even though Loney Dear’s music started out as quintessential lo-fi dreampop and chillwave (literally recorded in a basement), his label releases have largely taken advantage of the opportunity to expand upon that base and build the music, layer upon rich layer. This album sees Svanängen’s music look more inwards, minimizing itself while becoming darker. The arrangements, at times, are somewhat more simplified, but for every “Lilies” there is a “Dark Light,” featuring distorted vocals, chiming percussion, heaving bass and booming synth forging an ominous, overwhelmingly dark track, which then fades into a sampling of an Evangelical preacher warning against rock ‘n’ roll music. The music is at once somber and reflective, remorseful and defiant, melodic and raspy, romantic and industrial, charmingly familiar and flat-out weird. In a word, it’s delightful.