Review : Loney Dear - Hall Music
PopmattersFor his sixth album as Loney Dear, Swedish songwriter Emil Svanängen stretches his soundmaking skills. Hall Music occasionally features instrumentation that could clash, but Svanängen successfully blends them into lovely arrangements. The tone’s the thing on this album—it’s memorable and impressive enough that Svanängen has to work to keep up as a lyricist and melodist. He doesn’t fail in those regards, but once the album stops, the atmosphere remains more than any particular moments.
The album opens with an exception to that idea, but in a way that proves to be emblematic of Hall Music as a whole. On “Name”, Svanängen sings, “I want your name… / I want your name / Next to mine.” The simple melody and sparse backing here provide the album with one of its most beautiful and memorable sections. Svanängen develops this idea gently, and the song builds slowly, only hinting at orchestral presences. The song has an immediate hook, but it takes patience for the full impact to sink in, much as that opening line starts with a bit of misdirection before unveiling the singer’s actual point.
That sort of structure adds some complexity and a well developed atmosphere to the songs, but it also ends up removing any sense of urgency from the songs. Not that Loney Dear was ever going to be mistaken for (or tries to be) that sort of driving act, but he was able to get a need across in his music. Some of the cuts on Hall Music just sort of sink into themselves. “Largo” shows promise, and the introduction of the tuba line into the church organ’s piece is a challenging development, but the song never quite gains traction.
In Largo, Svanängen sings, “I used to talk quiet a lot,” but that was never his M.O. as a recording artist. For bouncy closer “What Have I Become?” Svanängen forgoes talking altogether, handing the vocal duties over to bandmate Malin Ståhlberg. It’s a nice change, and she delivers an excellent performance. The track itself is almost danceable, working against the reflective lyrics so that an odd optimism develops out of a somewhat bleak meditation. The lyrics twist enough that subtle changes, like whether “it’s not okay” or “I’m not okay”, move the song forward. In this context, when Ståhlberg sings that “sadness never was a choice” with the music playing, it’s easy to get her point. The piece is composed well enough that you also can’t forget her early thought, “In a land with a thousand seasides / I never really learned to swim at all / I really wanted to,” as the background for her condition. The end feeling is complex, but the music carries away any burdens....full text
Timberandsteel“Loney Dear“, the moniker of loveable Swede Emil Svanängen, is a combination of sounds I’ve come, over the years, to associate very strongly with a feeling of joy. His brand of simple ballad, layered carefully with wisps of balanced, toing-and-froing arrangements has proven itself time and time again. Like the albums to come before it, Loney Dear‘s Hall Music, which is to be released on October 4th by Polyvinyl Records, is every bit as ambitious.
Any argument that there ever was in regards to the quality and direction of modern popular music can be put to rest by a Loney Dear song. The album opener, “Name”, is a perfect example. The song is reminiscent of a traditional, pastoral Irish love ballad, embossed pleasingly and progressively with all the hallmarks of Loney Dear. The vocals follow the same line as the soaring, synthesised melody that plays the would-be role of flute in the arrangement, high above the hum of piano and horn. Following this is “My Heart”- a song I’ve been listening to incessantly since it found its way online over a month ago. Loney Dear‘s finest attribute is his translation of emotion into music, and this song is brimming with it. Complete with chiming bells, “My Heart” starts at a place of emotional intensity and continues to build until it reaches a point beyond where you thought it ever could.
Next up is “Loney Blues”- another radio-friendly piece decorated with swirls of synth that sound the way falling leaves ought to. The thing that ties this album together is that it is relentlessly moving, whether they be huge and overwhelming arrangements or subdued and slow-moving like this track and the next one “Calm Down”, which attempts to achieve the same goal as its title- to soothe and slow. And if you needed any extra persuasion, a brilliant xylophone solo has been woven into the end to make sure.
The album continues along in its comfortable groove of balladeering highs and lows through the dream-like “Maria, Is That You”, the piercing bliss of the first guitar-driven song on the album “D Major”, a dramatically mournful, organ-infused piece called “Largo” and a sparse piano song titled “Young Hearts” that exhibits Emil’s extraordinary voice like no other song on the album, before Hall Music again turns into an exciting a unreserved free-for-all of layered and intense instrumentation with “Durmoll”. It then descends into another dream-like arrangement with “I Dreamt About You” (incidentally), which seems to celebrate itself before finishing on a peculiar note- delving further into an 80s top of the pops throw-back than I’ve ever heard Loney Dear go before- complete with a female guest vocalist and punchy snare.
If Loney Dear is not an artist you’re familiar with, then this album is as good a place as any to start the journey. Don’t be fooled by the fact that you’ve never heard him on Triple J before, Loney Dear is world renowned and one of the great writers of our generation. I’m not ashamed to say that I pre-ordered this LP the very moment that it became available to do so, something I will only ever do for albums I that know I’m going to timelessly enjoy and prize owning. I remember seeing this post on Loney Dear’s facebook page earlier in the year; “My biggest swim moment so far in my life is when suddenly Justin Vernon dives into the same lake greeting me with ‘Jesus Christ. It’s YOU!’“. Says it all, really. Here’s hoping he makes it to Australia someday soon....full text
CokemachineglowPerhaps the only dude to use the word “heart” more times than I did in my Beirut review last week, bedroom multi-instrumentalist Emil Svanängen has returned. Returned from what was thought to maybe be his final album under the Loney, Dear moniker, Dear John (2009); returning from solo and fully (even very, very fully) orchestrated international touring; returned with…well, besides that verve for orchestra, nothing really changed about his unabashedly sincere and subtly intricate songwriting. Give or take some flourishes. Sometimes one just has to stay the course.
New release Hall Music—on Polyvinyl just as John was, removed from the bright lights of Sub Pop where Dear saw his Loney, Noir (2005) reissued in 2007—sees our earnest confessor again pinning tender heart after tender heart onto his sleeve like he gets them bulk at Costco. Again, he’s single-handedly wielding an arsenal of instrumentation, pairing each piece up, taking their unique contrasts in mind to build, at times meekly and at times exponentially, something so much bigger and broader than himself: rough clacks of rhythm and xylophones, synth loops and funk-bass, horns and analog keyboards that range from emotion-laden piano notes to some almost sitar-like effect that distorts the folk clarity of opener, “Name.”
Oft rabbit-shy, delicate-boned, and wide-eyed, the songs either hover in a perpetual state of effete, early-Sufjan twee-ish fright, or lull into sussings-out of emotionally stable situations, which eventually escalate into blown-out, sensational bursts. Set to release in early October, Hall Music seems to fixate on these points of shifting and season-turning relationship moments. Love: shifting into stranger sensations, uncertainties, and darker, bruised territory, the album ever-flowing, song by song, from the desperate to the…marrying?
Svanängen seems to have, all the way in Sweden, caught that positive upswing this year that has hooked into so many couples I know and the dude, like all my other long-term relationships friends—he be hankerin’ for marriage in a big way. “Name” repeating the obvious indicant, “I want to see your name next to mine,” is backed with chapel bells which go clanging through following track “My Heart.” The sentiment comes on a little strong, to be honest, but like The Sunday Times has once stated, he’s “A voice that breaks your heart before you can work out what he’s singing…” It may take a song or so, or just something as little as a change of weather, but the album has the knack of working its past the staunchest commitment-phobia.
Hall Music moves in brisk gestures beneath all this weighty material, carried for the most part by Svanängen’s proclivity for brisk, underlying rhythms. Chimes and marimbas clunk vibrantly, like he’s beating on empty milk bottles; “Calm Down” is kept afloat by its flickering loop and autoharp-like strums. These faint and thousand small, light currents carry the songs, hold aloft the pout and plea of Svanängen’s voice like the delicate whisking of silverfish legs. Similarly, “What Have I Become“ sees Svanängen turning over the mic to dainty-voiced female vocalist and long-term collaborator Malin Ståhlberg. Her voice plays a more subtle, silver-lining sort of role to the dark-cloud choruses in a few tracks here, and whatever the reason for his passing on the torch, it isn’t because he can’t get those high notes, as proven in tracks like “D major,” where he hits those falsettos square on the Bee Gees nose. At times, “those falsettos” pair up with all the aforementioned insecurities and clingy phrases to make me realize just how explicitly “not-cool” this album is....full text
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