Exquisitely poised melancholy from Swedish singer-songwriter.
Wyndham Wallace 2011
Like the similarly underrated East River Pipe, Emil Svanängen aka Loney, Dear has been a predominantly ‘bedroom’ artist up until now, turning out immaculate, intimate but nonetheless expansive albums that address themes of sadness, insecurity and rejection with an understated articulacy. Perhaps it’s the unapologetically sentimental nature of his music that has prevented him from reaching a wider audience so far – there have surely been few more poignant lyrics this year than "In a land with a thousand seasides, I never really learned to swim at all". Or maybe it’s the awkward comma in his name – we’re a fussy nation, after all. But Hall Music is yet more proof that the melancholic Swede deserves to be heard.
Svanängen’s sixth album sees him develop his aesthetic with an extra emphasis on intricate details – the grand string and brass arrangement on Durmoll, for instance, or the distant bells on My Heart - but the key quality remains the same: a melancholy that is somehow oddly comforting, even at times joyful. The opening hymn-like I Want Your Name encapsulates this as well as anything, with a simple plea – "I want your name next to mine" – sung sweetly above a far-off organ, before keyboards shimmer forth and Svanängen breaks into a trademark falsetto. His starkly emotional statements are maybe too heart-on-sleeve for some, but the more honest will recognise in themselves such rare confessions as that of My Heart…, where he admits to "crying in his sleep", or Loney Blues, when he laments how "hair is falling off strange places on your head".
The overall atmosphere is undeniably downbeat, most obviously on Largo, which sounds like a funeral march produced by Phil Spector and finds Svanängen admitting he "used to talk quite a lot but now I'm quiet ‘cause I don’t know how to reply", or the sparse Young Hearts, which offers little more than vocals, an organ and a piano. But there’s a reassuring consolation in the aching Calm Down Emil – "Slow down, there’s nothing after you" – and D Major… describes a snowy but heart-warming night-time scene in which "behind turned up collars, everyone was smiling".
Best still are the album’s final two tracks, the atmospheric Dreamin’, which swells gently towards an almost ecstatic climax, and the frankly magnificent What Have I Become?, a resigned shrug of the shoulder in its conclusion: "I really don’t care no more / Things never go they way they should / It's not sad but it's not OK". The latter is matched by a melody that ABBA themselves could have written, and, while what sounds like Kate Bush wails in the background, its final cheeky nod to Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy proves that it’s not all misery and self-pity here.