The first thing you need to know about Emil Svanängen is that he is Sweedish. I say this because it seems that music coming from what I like to refer to as “Russia’s Fingers” (see: Sweeden, Norway, and Finland) is always a little bit…weird. Before you even crack the spine on Dear John, Emil’s fifth studio album (and first that wasn’t self recorded in his parents basement) you’ve got the feeling this music is going to be a little different. What I’m getting at, is look at the man’s rock n’ roll pseudonym – Loney, Dear. Seriously, a comma?
All that aside Loney, Dear is actually a pretty impressive guy. As mentioned his first four albums he self-recorded in Sweeden using low grade technology in his parents basement. His 2003 debut, The Year of River Fontana, was released on his website and gained popularity simply by word of mouth. I assume this was without the help of a kamikaze myspace or facebook bombardment, as well. I suppose his music simply spoke for itself.
Over here in the States we got our taste of Loney, Dear in 2007 when Seattle-based SubPop decided to re-release one of Emil’s albums, Loney, Noir (cheeky).Emil’s toured with some hard-hitters, including Of Montreal, the Sea and Cake, Athlete, and most recently Andrew Bird. Now with January’s Dear John (note the lack of comma), we technically have his label debut on Polyvinyl.
Here’s the breakdown on Loney, Dear’s sound: it’s gentle. Emil’s voice is a soft, whispered secret over a mix of electro and woodwinds. Even the upbeat, catchy tracks such as “Airport Surroundings” and “Everything Turns To You” come across as light and warm, and that mixture might be why these are two of the best tracks on the album.
Outside of those tracks the tempo of the album stays slow, playing off gooey lyrics and his tiny backing orchestra. Sometimes this creates something beautiful, like with standout track “I Was Only Going Out”. Sometimes it drags along and fails, like the painfully slow and silent “Harm/Slow”. But unfortunately no tracks meet the height of Loney, Noir‘s standout, “I Am John”.
If you buy into Emil’s vocals and appreciate the eclectic swirl surrounding him then Dear John will please. Otherwise you will definitely find a few tracks worth spinning, but this is in no way a cover-to-cover masterpiece.