Loney, Dear is Emil Svanangen, Sweden's version of Trent Reznor... that is, if Trent Reznor had stuck with the Exotic Birds sound rather than forming nine inch nails. There's something very '80s about Loney, Dear's sound, a combination of looping melodies, soaring melody, layered instrumentation and synth-heavy orchestral pop, all recorded by Svanangen himself (originally in his parents' basement, though now in an actual studio). But where Reznor and nine inch nails ultimately veered left into the Thunderdome wasteland in a beat-up black Ford Mustang (at least for a time), Loney, Dear takes a hard right onto the Autobahn in a Renault.
Dear John, Loney, Dear's latest, is not only an English major's nightmare, but a pleasant mix of pessimistic melancholy and quirky, optimistic electronic folk, not moody enough to be clustered in the emo category, yet not cute enough to be disregarded as sheer silliness. It's music to listen to while surfing the Internet in your local coffee shop, perhaps not quite Starbucks, not quite Peets. It's music you might find in an Apple commercial once they get tired of the likes of Feist and paint all their machines gray. It's music that leaks out of the windows of the little house on the corner, down the street from Nick Drake, Nick and Norah, and Nick Fromageau. It pulls you in, caresses the back of your neck, and leaves you wondering if you should fall asleep, or go out for a run in the morning fog. Maybe both at once.
The album opens in medias res with "Airport Surroundings," a throbbing beat and racing lyrics diving right into the crowd, a chaotic trip in fast forward, chimes and drum machine, and Svanangen's falsetto chasing it all down the tarmac. "Everything Turns to You" is nearly as urgent a melody, violins threatening creeping doom, a metronome counting out the final minutes to some revelation never quite revealed, or perhaps the end of a race, a Tour de France racing through the corridor of the mind, rising to a crescendo and then ending all too soon.
Nearly every track features such an escalation and evolution, taking the listener in a direction they never expected. If Apple ever does knock on Loney, Dear's door, "I Was Only Going Out" will be the song they feature, its sweet, simple lyrics like a cross between Disney movie musical and Feistlike fantasy with a dash of Paul Simon thrown in for good measure, regret and sadness mashed up so closely with cheerful whistling that one can hardly tell whether to laugh or cry. "Under a Silent Sea" starts out as electro-folk full of autotune and gentle acoustics before gently morphing into a Eurotrance epic. "Distant" begins around a campfire complete with tribal drumming and a simple chanting voice crying into the night sky, and ends up in the sky with an angelic (or perhaps alien?) choir replying in kind.
At times, Svanangen drifts just a little too far into the emo camp, and loses his sense of whimsy. And that's not so good. "Harsh Words" has a pleasant enough melody, but the lyrics are a bit too Livejournal without their accompanying spoonful of sugar. Likewise, "Harm" (which conjures up Nick Drake's "River Man") is a bit too "down the river, not across the stream", if you catch my drifting current; lyrics like "Time didn’t pay attention to me at all / Time didn’t show kindness to me at all" feel clumsy and awkward rather than heartfelt. Fortunately, such fumbles are few and far between, and the title track (and the album's final hurrah) more than makes up for it: "Dear John" starts out as a sleepy sendoff, but halfway through meets up with a raucous circus parade, perhaps on their way to a My Chemical Romance concert down in New Orleans next to Willy Wonka's factory, now specializing in bittersweet chocolate.
Favorite Track: "I Was Only Going Out"