When I first knew I’d be reviewing Härskarkonst, I asked for a translation of the lyrics so I could further understand the music of Victor Holmberg and 1987. But the more I listened to this record while waiting on the translations from Swedish to English, the more I realised I needed no translation beyond what the title roughly means in English: The Art of Ruling.
It’s love that rules over the world of Swedish producer and musician 1987 (Holmberg was previously one half of Montauk along with Johan Cederberg, now of HNNY, a man with a huge presence within the songs - without appearing on the album) on this magnificent and long-awaited debut album; love replaces rhetoric in that Plato quote to become “love is the art of ruling the minds of men”. Love is something that we all have in our lives in some form or another, whether we’re expressing it for a person or a thing or a time, or whether we’re the recipients of love. It’s transformative, all-consuming and controlling. We lose control of our senses and reason, yet we trust it. Follow your heart – they say that, don’t they? And we’ve done it for better or worse; sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t but once we’re back in that same situation again we blindly trust love, forgetting to analyse what happened the last time and coming to a reasoned response.
Härskarkonst is the sound of Holmberg refusing to self-edit and submitting to love ruling his life. Deciding to simply feel and document that moment, and that’s why I went without a translation for this record sung entirely in Swedish save for an evocative “fuck you” in the opening track “Simma Bland Hajar’; as a listener you don’t you need a guide to know what Holmberg is expressing in his music and words because these are universal truths expressed through music or video. Take “Michelle” for example; a black and white clip featuring a young girl and a horse attempting to find an escape from the city together is perfect for the music Holmberg creates to accompany it. Dream-like R&B gently throbs and twinkles, one slow beat of percussion anchors the plaintive vocal crying out for the titular woman, threatening to be carried away by ambient synth noise lighter than air itself in the background. Only at the end is there a forceful pulse, one line repeated over and over again acting as a sign of urgency, perhaps a rush of jealousy, perhaps a passionate plea from Holmberg to a loved one. It’s a progression from a calm, soothing experience of love to something more pressing and undefined by the time we reach the conclusion of “Michelle”.
The following track, “Bomb”, gives more of an indication of what love is doing to Holmberg. It’s the first time 1987 has really dropped something of a club banger, with house-y piano and pitch-bent vocals providing the track with real pace that threatens to spiral out of control. The title is a giveaway, Holmberg battling to prevent an explosion going off inside him as he loses all control through love….yet by writing this song he moves through that to the next experience of love, a weight lifted off his shoulders by dint of nostalgia. Yes, the feeling on “Bomb” is of losing control but revisiting it, not self-editing it becomes a positive experience…what the fuck is wrong with losing control every now and again anyway? Nostalgia then enhances the gigantic and euphoric “Ocean”; it’s a huge swell of a song brimming with happiness and oxytocin, rising to a peak as Holmberg’s voice reaches out for the higher notes above the major piano chords. It’s as honest and open as 1987 sounds on Härskarkonst – and that’s saying something on a record that’s all about honesty.
It’s on the final three tracks that Härskarkonst really becomes a beautiful record; the blissed-out Balearic vibes of “Hej då” are filled with an emotion that approaches regret but never quite gets there, meaning the song is a goodbye, but a necessary farewell to something or someone. “Karusell” is lifted by a buzzing choir of voices to take it to a beautiful somewhere beyond the emotive Lover’s Rock skittering percussion and weighty piano, and final track “4.17” is Holmberg nakedly exposing everything he’s given over the course of the album, voice accompanied by nothing more than glistening piano and a gently soothing saxophone.
Härskarkonst is love, and is about love. It’s filled with Holmberg/1987’s nostalgia for these feelings which capture a particular series of defining moments in his life. It’s filled with our own nostalgia too: eventually we’ll recall the first time we heard these songs and we’ll remember how it felt to listen to “Ocean” or “Vit häst” but for the moment Härskarkonst helps us remember – unfiltered – our own experiences of love: the rush we felt which was sound tracked by the chime of a Teenage Fanclub record heard in the summer, the gigantic comedown of a breakup played out over Will Oldham or Drake’s Take Care and the rehabilitation and rebuilding through the dream fantasies of Korallreven. One day you’ll listen to Härskarkonst – every single beautiful note of it – and wonder why you chose to listen to anything else but the ruling power of love.