When an artist like Emil Svanängen puts out an album with a heavy emphasis on orchestral arrangements, you expect great things. Loney, Dear has always been adept at crafting little epics from “I Am John” to “Harsh Words,” so using a stronger orchestral foundation should make hearts explode. Instead, it sounds almost as if he took the opportunity to scale back; much of the new album Hall Music is not just ambient and hushed, but lacking in drama.
It’s not that this approach is a bad idea for Svanängen. Most of the tracks are very beautiful, such as the two minute ethereal meditation of “Maria, Is That You.” But there’s a saturation point to the meditation. Immediately after this song is the light guitar pluck and faint organ hum of “D Major,” accompanied by Svanängen’s cat-like falsetto. Then there’s “Largo,” a slow trudge set to haunted organs and a deep, distant bass. Then there’s the even slower, pulsating trudge of “Young Hearts” that comes off as another formless rumination. The album, by this point, feels like the lazy buzz of cheap wine, and soon you may want to feel something more substantial.
Maybe these songs individually, out of the context of the entire album, are stronger and heavy with the emotional drain that Loney, Dear does very well. But in the same basket, they all have the same ever-present drone, and that doesn’t inspire any powerful reactions. It’s hard to feel particularly impassioned about a drone.
It all seems to be aimed at building a formless, ethereal mass of music. Sometimes they accomplish this with neat turns: the wordless cooing on opener “Names” melds into a pretty inspiring theremin solo. Other times, it takes the form of weird composition choices, such as the way the more minimalist songs seemingly and oddly just run out of words and play it out.
The uncommon moments where it does break through the fog are great. They almost book end the album, with second track “My Heart” slowly blooming into heavy bell and bass work that is thrilling and even worthy of head bobs. Then toward the end, we get “Durmoll,” which is constantly hounded by punchy brass, creating real tension and drama. At last, the final track “What Have I Become” is refreshingly out of place, not only because Malin Ståhlberg takes over lead vocals, but also because it has the most writing out of any track. “I really don’t care no more,” she sings over a brisk pop sound wall. “Efforts never made a change here, and high hopes made it worse.” We get a real, meaty song instead of a rumination on a line or a mood.
Listening to that final track helps throw into perspective what too much of the album is missing. While it can be elegant and subtle, it’s devoid of the electricity that Loney, Dear can bring. This is an artist that certainly knows how to kick it in, but you spend most of your time waiting for it.