Loney, Dear
Loney, Noir
(Sub Pop)

By: Brandon Forbes

Being born in the hometown of the Cardigans brings a certain level of intimidation for any aspiring Swedish rock musician. Good thing Loney, Dear mastermind Nils-Emil Svanangen rose to the challenge of his birth locale. Trained in both classical and jazz while growing up, Emil kept his ear open to Kraftwerk and Brian Eno and grew into an apartment-based songwriting style that gradually incorporated a vast swath of instrumentation, pushing the bounds of soulful folk experimentation. After selling thousands of CD-Rs, including Loney, Noir, which was self-released in 2005 in Europe, Emil finally caught the attention of Sub Pop, who has just re-released Noir stateside. Combining warm tones, jazzy instrumentation, and a troubadour vocal delivery that at times recalls fellow European crooners Sondre Lerche, Travis’ Francis Healey, and occasionally even Sigur Ros’ Jon Thor Birgisson, Loney, Noir offers an intimate look at a songwriter caught between genres, but unafraid of his predicament.

As the album unfolds, Emil pleads his case for a “state of hope” in the solo acoustic to enveloped orchestra movement of opener “Sinister in a State of Hope”. Deserving single “I Am John” lets warm tones, xylophone notes, and dueling horns and clarinets ride gritty guitar and organic percussion so Emil’s soft vocals can mesh with high-end harmonizing. It’s a mini-orchestrated group pick-me-up – as Emil sings it, he’s “never gonna let you down.” After hearing this song, you believe him. A 1970s soft-rock chorus warms to squeaking low-end bass for some subdued indie pop on “Saturday Waits,” and “Hard Days” strikes a note of resonance with Emil’s American twin, Fifty States heartthrob Sufjan Stevens. Quiet acoustic tones are overcome sporadically by clarinets, flutes, and marching band percussion while Emil emotes about the onrush of tough times in a fast-paced world: “We used to be the fighters here.” Both Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack” and “Life in a Glass House” get channeled through “I Am the Odd One,” replete as it is with haunting organ, angelic harmonizing, and bouncing woodwinds. Yet Emil seems more intimate than Yorke here, as the melody is lighter and the vocal delivery is not as other-worldly. While Emil certainly has musical confidence in himself, his lyrics on Noir often betray a self-effacing tendency that reappears frequently. True to form, and despite its defeatist subject matter, “No One Can Win” benefits from a beautiful clarinet hook that interweaves with Emil’s uplifting vocals until it makes the group chorus soar. You can almost see Emil’s downcast eyes, though, through the soft, staccato strings which drive the waltzy rhythm of “The Meter Marks OK,” allowing him to harmonize the meter of loss in triplicate: “You slip away, you slip away, you slip away.”

Overall the record has a very breezy, organic folk feel, though some synthetic elements do appear. The Nintendo key plunks and drum fills that serve as foundation for the brief “I Will Call You Lover Again,” and the driving guitar and drum current of “Carrying a Stone” seems to be carried by a faint electronic pulse. But the latter overcomes its programmed feel as it builds beautifully, vocals, percussion, and horns swelling into a layered, yet restrained, finale. But direct programming returns in closer “And I Won’t Cause Anything At All” which, though probably the least distinct of the record’s tracks, does counter the synthetic beats with Emil’s trademark falsetto peaks and acoustic picking.

There’s a moment in “I Am the Odd One” where Emil’s lyrical confession is echoed by quiet whistling that is simultaneously intimate and congenial. It’s a telling slice of Emil’s earnest approach to song craft, an approach that covers both his lyrical and compositional writing. It’s a refreshing approach that brings together folk, classical, jazz and rock elements with an endearing quirkiness. Loney, Noir offers a perfect intro to an original voice that, heard now for the first time in the States, is full of promise for the future.







All opinions expressed by Brandon Forbes are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.