There's an unresolved tension at the heart of A Swedish Love Story, the new EP by talented multi-instrumentalist and sometime Arcade Fire collaborator Owen Pallett. On the one hand, Pallett seems interested in writing songs with many of the hallmarks of conventional pop music. The four tracks on show here contain some memorable melodies, are composed from a few simple elements, and are for the most part unabashedly upbeat. Pallett is an indie kid at heart, though, and it shows. It shows in the title of the EP, which is named after an old Swedish film inspired by Czech new-wave cinema. It shows in the content of the lyrics, which address such well-worn pop cliches as, um, determinism and the possibility that all human actions are a result of external causes ('The future is a constant/In the world of free will'). It also shows in his employment of long, rambling song structures and rejection of verse/chorus/verse dynamics. The result of this is four slightly disappointing hybrids, pop songs disguised as indie songs and indie songs pretending to be pop songs, stripped of the best features of both.
The opening track here, 'A Man With No Ankles', is a good demonstration of the problems Pallett causes himself. The track frolics merrily along, propelled by some perky strings and subtle moog. It's a directionless frolic though. Melodies appear and unceremoniously disappear again, never to return. Lengthy instrumental passages destroy any immediacy the song might have. The directness and simplicity essential to good pop music is nowhere to be seen. The listener is left wondering what Pallett is trying to achieve. His music sets out to be catchy, but then undermines its own catchiness. Perhaps this is an attempt to deconstruct pop music, to isolate key features of that form of music and reconfigure them. If so, it is a failure insofar as the 'something new' in question lacks any of the qualities associated with the pop genre.
Despite this, the EP does have its moments. There are flashes of real quality. The quietly pretty 'Scandal At The Parkade' is enlivened by some propulsive, swirling violins, and 'Honour The Dead, Or Else' (by some distance the best song here) showcases Pallett's beautifully fragile vocals. Overall though, this is a disappointingly muddled release which serves to showcase too many of indie-pop's problems and too few of its strengths. Longtime Pallett fans may well find it casually enjoyable, but it will not convert sceptics.
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