On his second album, Wonderland, CEO (a.k.a. Swedish pop craftsman Eric Berglund) pursues a colorful vision that inhabits a space somewhere between MGMT’s jungle-boogie psychedelia and Sufjan Stevens’s heart-on-sleeve, tie-dyed pageantry. In delivering this loosely jointed acid dream, Berglund has essentially unbuttoned the stiff grandiosity of his debut, shedding heavy-handed treacle like that album’s “All Around” for something far more fun and unpredictable. More importantly, however, is the fact that over the course of Wonderland’s eight whirling tracks, Berglund appears to have found his voice.
The album possesses an almost pluralistic quality, as if its production were the result of some DayGlo-painted mass demonstration not unlike a raver version of Carnival. Each track contains a smattering of random voices crying out and then looping away into the ether, while percussion thrums along like it’s being hammered out by a marching band. Absurd, gaudy, and at times literally squeaky, Wonderland is Dan Deacon visiting Brazil, a pop party rife with cartoony effects, breakneck synth percolation, and its creator’s wide-eyed earnestness. “Ultrakaos” is about three or four humming choruses overlaid on a restless dancehall beat, racing forward haphazardly like a Rube Goldberg device on a tightrope, while “Whorehouse” opts for a calmer pace, padding its soft beat with video-game harp pads and a manic sing-along voice undoubtedly inspired by Jamster’s Crazy Frog. “OMG” stands out as the most pensive of Berglund’s compositions, a tapestry of pitch-shifted samples that tones down the party elements in favor of focusing solely on the human voice.
Notwithstanding the wistful contemplation of “OMG,” however, it’s Berglund’s lack of self-awareness that serves as Wonderland’s greatest strength. The album is driven by a whimsical, dreamy impulse that serves as an effective pivot away from his debut’s calculative obsession with delivering epic-sounding music. The impulsive streak is also refreshing in an age when synth-pop, especially the Swedish variety, is getting more and more grandiose. In rightly avoiding the sweeping, anthemic electro jams of compatriots like Robyn and Niki and the Dove, Berglund offers an unpretentious and hypnotic listening experience, the kind of album that allows its audience to be a member of a nameless, nebulous crowd immersing itself in pure street spectacle.