There’s a frenetic, cyclical rhythmic pattern to so many of the songs on Emil Svanänen’s fifth album as Loney Dear, Dear John, that it’s no surprise to learn that the Swedish multi-instrumentalist was once a pro cyclist. Indeed, there’s a subtle ‘80s-horror-film underpinning to songs like the opening track “Airport Surroundings” and “Everything Turns to You,” which rollicks with an undercurrent of electricity (or adrenaline, if you will), that gives them an urgency one imagines a marathoner might feel in his or her quest for some distant endgame. Svanänen wisely paces himself, building songs one layer upon the next until they cascade into cacophonies of plucky strings, bursts of brass, sparkly synths, and clattering percussion. Svanänen’s voice isn’t unpleasant, but whenever the meter drops below 120 beats per minute, as it does on the suicide dirge “Harm,” his nasally, somewhat nondescript indie-timbre leaves much to be desired (halfway through the song, the original melody is replaced by Albinoni’s “Adaggio,” which deserves better than the clumsy phrasing and awkward vowels Svanänen offers to accompany it). What makes Dear John stronger than last year’s Loney, Noir, then, is Svanänen’s ability to compensate for his shortcomings with arrangements that reference his disparate influences (Kraftwerk, U2, and—presumably—his childhood clarinet teacher). The whimsical whistling of “I Was Only Going Out” nearly rivals Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks,” the propulsive “Distant” is buoyed by an angelic choir seemingly cheering him on from the heavens, while the album’s centerpiece, “Under a Silent Sea,” is a folk-techno hybrid that climaxes in a heady mix of beats and buzzes that would make a perfect accompaniment for any long-sought finish line.
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