Sometimes, when I try to explain to other people what I do with this website, and my passion for music, I feel like I’m explaining thermodynamics to my cat. Every time the subject arises, I am surprised at how few people frequently listen to music, fewer still who listen to modern rock, and even fewer than that who listen to indie rock. If you’re reading about bands on this site, you are part of a very small and select group of people who have great musical taste, completely understanding my point of view regarding discussions with those amongst the unanointed. But it doesn’t stop there. A lot of what we review is music that has found even fewer ears, debuts from little known artists to nearly completely unknown artists, so even those who are usually on the cutting edge are also in the dark.
Add to that the fact that I’m a writer by nature. I find it much easier to put my thoughts into words on paper or on a screen than to verbalize them. I can write pages and pages of description about the music I love, but when pressed to describe a new artist to someone who isn’t well versed in our rockabulary, well, it’s just a mess. It’s an almost surefire bet that these problems will arise in describing Loney, Dear. We’ve all heard the story before, about a lonely Swedish boy writing songs in his parents’ house / basement apartment. What we haven’t heard is anything even remotely close to the transcendent sound of Emil Svanängen’s (Loney, Dear’s real name) sweet falsetto. Imagine one of the Bee Gees providing vocals to a Sufjan Stevens album and you, who are, of course, versed in this language of rock, will come close to understanding what Loney, Dear is all about.
Loney, Noir is not Loney, Dear’s first album, but it is most likely the first one most of us have ever heard. Three other albums have been released by this young Swede; most of them burned onto CD-R and distributed in his homeland (he’s originally from the same town as the Cardigans!). Just like Sam Beam and Devendra Banhart, Emil’s music found its way into the hands and ears of someone who could do something about it, in this case being one of the handful of lucky bastards working at Sub Pop. Thus, the American public gets treated to one of the world’s best-kept secrets, and we are all the better for it.
“Sinister in a State of Hope” gets the ball rolling slowly, like a marble on a very slight incline. The song sounds like Sigur Rós backed by Sufjan’s Michigan Militia horns rather than weeping strings. There’s more than just a tenuous connection to the communal energy of the folk / pop `we can do it’ attitude of Mr. Stevens and his merry band of semi-professional musicians. There is the same sense of whimsy, of personal storytelling and bittersweet sounds of summer. “I Am John” is the song that most people will hear, and rightly so. It’s a powerhouse of a sunny pop single with backup vocals that hint at the days of Beach Boys’ majesty. As the instruments layer themselves one over the other, including clarinet and bells, its infectiousness rises exponentially until the falsetto kicks into the stratosphere and you can’t help but smile. This is what summer fun is all about, enjoying the sunny atmosphere, but also feeling just a bit awkward at camp, far away from home and lonely.
“Saturday Waits” is another highlight, being a strange hybrid of Brian Wilson meets Jackson Browne in a jam session with the Arcade Fire. The spirit of Sufjan reigns throughout “Hard Days 1,2,3,4” with handclaps, clarinets and shimmering flutes, though Emil does end up repeating himself by singing, “I’m a teenager, I’m anxious.” “I Am the Odd One” is Loney, Dear’s song of apology, as confessional as the lyrics, “If I was crying in the van, with my friends, I was crying for freedom, from myself and from the land.” Oddly, there’s another touchstone in the song, “No One Can Win.” Does anyone out there remember An American Tail? Well, this song is strangely reminiscent of the theme song, “Somewhere Out There,” with maybe a hint of Tom Waits’ “The House Where Nobody Lived,” though, it is a bit more depressing, believe it or not. In a different direction entirely, the Postal Service / Atari 2600 video game beats come out in “I Will Call You Lover Again.”
Loney, Noir continues in the same manner, ten brief masterpieces of equally soulful and playful power pop that is intimate nearly to a fault. Loney, Dear got luckier than most struggling artists by landing an American deal with Sub Pop, the mightiest of the indie labels, but in actuality, luck had nothing to do with it. Was Kobe Bryant lucky to be drafted by the Lakers? Not really, the kid had hops. Was Joss Whedon lucky to break into television? Nah, dude can write. Was Hayden Christiansen lucky to become an actor? Well, okay, maybe that’s a bad example. Loney, Dear, unlike most of the music I listen to for the sake of causing Treble, will be easy for me describe to people. He’s the sound of teenage dreams about teenage heartache brought on by teenage love. He is not the sound of happiness, nor is he the voice of sadness. Instead, he is the voice of life at its most beautiful, when the world around you is unfolding before your very eyes, and you simply take it all in.
MP3: “I Am John”