If Vanity Fair says so, it must be true: Scandinavia is having a moment. An Aug. 2012 dictum in the fashionable glossy heralds the pop-culture invasion by these noble Nordics (see the popularity of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the omnipresence of H&M and Noma’s being crowned yet again as the best restaurant in the world). A creative fire is burning in the northern reaches of Europe, one fueled by equal parts liberalism and stoicism.
Sweden’s the Royal Concept personify this duality on their self-titled debut EP. On the surface, they’re the scrappy heir apparent to Phoenix — fraught with crisp guitars and “up all night” lyrics. They’ve admitted in interviews that their biggest influences are the women they meet and carouse with. These fellas are so irresistible, in fact, that they wrote “Naked Dumb,” a fan-favorite track that didn’t make the EP cut, about a stripper that was obsessed with singer David Larson. Oh, he’s a ruffled roustabout, all right — all tousled blond hair and Strokes-like leather uniform. He’s practically a graduate and valedictorian of the rock ‘n’ roll dreamboat academy.
But that guy-liner smears as the aural tears of “In the End” flow. The closer is a rococo, beautiful bummer that turns synthetic plinks into sky-bound vespers. One can imagine Larson gazing longingly out the window, his welling eyes taking in too much of the frozen scene, wondering if it’s OK for a cocksure male musician to feel this way. Wasn’t he just demanding his audience to “D-D-Dance,” despite the bitter cold? Maybe he was just dancing on thin ice, and the gleeful pulse of drummer Povel Olsson (who moonlights in Robyn’s backing band) was just an artificial pacemaker. One can only dance to forget the hurt for so long.
The Vanity Fair article suggests that delicate balance of light and dark is inherent of the Nordic tribes. There are literal months of sunlessness in these parts, followed by ages of unrelenting brightness. In societal issues, the peoples of the region applaud progressive movements for gay rights and art, but yet cling to sameness in their choice of vehicles, clothing and like to create a warm blanket of vanilla existence. It takes a lifetime of fortitude to find a happy medium here, and the Royal Concept have crafted a damn near perfect amalgam of bleakness and bravado. The EP bends and refracts like aurora borealis, a prism of elation through the chaos of endless night and the frigidness of conformist society. Dance-floor decadence and self-reflective tomes interweave effortlessly. They’re poets and provocateurs, and it will be thrilling to follow their evolution.