There are some albums which require a listener to slow down their life’s hectic pace in order to take the time to fully appreciate them. And then there are some records that completely stop you in your tracks. Loney Dear‘s Hall Music is clearly one of those stop you in your tracks releases which contain such gorgeous, unvarnished beauty that it causes the din and demands of daily life to fade away, leaving you with just the fragile voice and enthralling instrumentation of Emil Svanängen soundtracking your inevitable swoon. The Swedish songwriter has consistently crafted elegant, deeply affecting music throughout his distinguished, understated career, but this lovely new batch of songs represents a full realization of the rich and textured sound that Svanängen has been working towards this entire time.
The album opens with the heartfelt plea of ‘Name,’ a plaintive, tender song that features Emil’s searching vocals over a gradually swelling arrangement full of subtle keyboard flourishes that blossom into an enchanting crescendo as the song comes gracefully to a close. The soaring desperation of ‘My Heart’ quickly follows, serving as an apology for hurting the one you shared your name with in the opening track. The track builds over a pulsing bass line and the hypnotic chiming of church bells, as Svanängen quivering vocals easily and emphatically convey his hopeless sincerity.
That stark sense of candor and unguarded vulnerability colours all of Hall Music, drawing the listener intimately into Svanängen’s bruised world full of both unbridled joy and heartbreaking melancholy. And while these songs might contain a bit too much emotion for some hardened listeners, those that immerse themselves in these glorious, restorative sounds will surely be taken somewhere truly special. ‘Loney Blues’ is one of those moments, with Svanängen continuing his self-referential titling tendencies while weaving himself even further into this lilting, winsome number.
‘Calm Down’ echoes the aforementioned sentiment about taking the proper time needed to enjoy what is around you without the fear of looking foolish for unabashedly taking pleasure in something. Cynicism of the world be damned, for there is more than enough negativity out there, so take heart in yourself and those you love, and blissfully dance along with Emil’s sprightly vibraphone. ‘D Major’ features Svanängen reaching for the upper registers of his fragile falsetto, and, when you couple his vocals with a muted guitar part, the forlorn track has a distinct Bon Iver sound to it, which is most assuredly meant as a compliment.
The second half of the record is more subdued and ethereal than the first, with Svanängen scaling back on the scope of his arrangements in favor of a more restrained, softer sound. But the songs still manage to convey an impassioned emotional weight, as the stark, hymn-like beauty of both ‘Largo’ and ‘Young Hearts’ soar despite the muted nature of the music and Emil’s hushed vocals. The warm brass flourishes return on the gorgeous ‘Durmoll,’ which simmers tranquilly at the start before blooming into a rousing, anthemic number that is another of the album’s many highlights.
The record draws to a dramatic, theatrical close with the atmospheric majesty of ‘I Dreamed About You,’ and ‘What Have I Become?’ which finds Svanängen cheekily (given the title) ceding the lead over to the lush vocals of Malin Stahlberg. It’s a bold move (especially for the last track on his album), but one which works well within the parameters of the song. However, longtime listeners might just wonder what has indeed become of Svanängen, and under what modified moniker or unknown ensemble we will hear from him again.
But Loney Dear’s brooding, brittle songs have typically had little interest in the future, while consistently focusing on decisions, both good and bad, that have been made in the past, and how those difficult choices continue to impact our tenuous grip on our modern day concerns. Emil Svanängen has always appeared to get both lost in and healed by his own music, and these stunning new songs can surely keep the distressing demands of the world at bay as long as we keep on listening.