Six years of no activity can stunt a pop career, but Now, Now’s return from its half-decade absence, Saved, arrives right on time. The duo of KC Dalager and Bradley Hale adapts its emo-pop sound by rewiring its sensitive rock-based music with cosmic, arena-friendly synth-pop, like many current pop acts crossing from the past decade—older siblings Paramore and Tegan and Sara come to mind. The result not only wields the magic of sky-bound pop without compromising Now, Now’s introverted foundations, but it also broadens the duo’s scope without sacrificing its intimacy.

Saved expands upon the private-room closeness set in its previous album, Threads. While “SGL” echoes back to the duo’s past era with Dalager whispering over a rather bare acoustic-guitar setup, what kicks the daydreamer out of her personal space is a set of booming kick drums and starry-eyed synths that match the sheer size of her pouring emotions. If the bare-bones guitar-pop of “AZ” calls back to the old, introverted Dalager who confesses secrets to a cassette tape made only for herself, the new electronic songs like “MJ” and “Can’t Help Myself” imagine the singer shouting along to her favorite radio singles with a hairbrush in hand into a camera.

Rather than bookish, roundabout poetry more assumed to accompany bashful indie-rock, Dalager expresses herself through a format more familiar to commercial teen-pop records. Simple rhymes untangle her balled-up feelings with words all cleanly arranged to carry the sharpest melodies. She relies upon a set of a few handy lyrics and pop tricks, sometimes giving a sense of deja vu to the songs. But the predictability and lack of depth in the writing are compensated by its precision and directness, especially emphasized by her deeply longing choruses.

More than its form of delivery, Saved shares teen-pop’s tendency to blow up personal issues into dramatic, larger-than-life tragedies. Dalager refers to her romance as a holy experience throughout the record, as the album title alludes. The record starts with her in prayer while the chorus of the title track frames a breakup as a step to be reborn; “Holy Water” turns a touch into an act of sin and temptation taints her innocence throughout the album. While her urgent choruses already intensify the emotions at hand, otherworldly textures of gauzy, distorted bass and thunderous drums raise her love stories into divine moments as she experiences them.

The updated pop production may aspire to raise the heights of Now, Now into the stratosphere, but the duo keeps a sense of smallness throughout its songs that ties itself back to its emo-rock foundation. Wide-eyed and cinematic as the album may sound, Saved is based upon relatively small-town romances. Dalager often goes on drives, a getaway rather reserved for a more suburban character. The most affecting songs here find her itching to get back to the road, looking out the window with deep yearning or simply in search of another space to get more intimate.

Vague allusions to specific memories may give the impression of Saved as a document of autobiography, but the album provides a strong sense of utility for those eavesdropping outside as well. Dalager’s generic language, broad details and conversations between an anonymous “you and I” easily lend a space for others to fill in the blanks with their inner desires. The rather macabre figures of speech reservs the record for a certain mood—“killing myself to understand you” goes a stray lyric in “Can’t Help Myself”—but screams into the void present Saved as comfort for those in need.

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One Comment

  1. John the Fifth

    August 3, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    Legend (youtube comments) has it that Dalager and former member Jess Abbot were dating and then split up. If any of that us true, it would explain some of the lyrics in those songs.


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