Plumbiferous Media

Dear John - Loney Dear

Feb 1st 2009
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Loney Dear - Dear JohnLoney Dear
Dear John
Score: 58

Emil Svanän­gen has been work­ing for a while under the name of Loney, Dear (now Loney Dear), self-releas­ing records since 2003. His first big hap­pen­ing, of course, occurred when Sub Pop, one of our favorite labels, re-issued his album, Loney, Noir. Since then, he has toured with of Mon­tre­al, and is cur­rent­ly tour­ing with Andrew Bird. His newest album, Dear John, came out this past week.

Dear John has a num­ber of good points, most notably, “Air­port Sur­round­ings” (not only because it’s the first track, but because it is by far the best track). The instru­ments cre­ate a dense, slow­ly chang­ing sea - not unlike denser min­i­mal­ist music - accent­ed by inter­jec­tions such as the syn­the­sized pizzi­cati. Some­how this lay­er, though near­ly invari­able, man­ages to keep the track mov­ing at a decent speed that match­es the lyrics. This only serves to fur­ther bol­ster the amount which this back­ground of noise sup­ports the vocals, that in turn have just the right tone to match the wave of syn­thet­ic sounds.

While “Air­port Sur­round­ings” is the tru­ly great track of the album (which in itself is slight­ly sad­den­ing, as any lis­ten­er would hope after Air­port for an album filled with equal­ly well con­struct­ed tracks), there are still many great points in Dear John. “I Was Only Going Out” pro­vides a nice reprieve from the dense sounds of the pre­vi­ous tracks; “Under a Silent Sea,” while a bit long, is an out­stand­ing­ly musi­cal track. Svanän­gen also man­ages to make excel­lent use of the break between his modal voice and falset­to, espe­cial­ly in “I Got Lost”. Final­ly, the last track of the album, “Dear John,” for the first time dis­plays promi­nent­ly major chords. Whether this was to make some state­ment to match the lyrics, or for some oth­er rea­son, it is cer­tain­ly an inter­est­ing change, though it ends up sound­ing some­what odd after the rest of the album, which is almost entire­ly minor, if some­times ambigu­ous­ly so.

While Dear John has its high points, they’re large­ly over­shad­owed by the low points and by those ele­ments of the album which sim­ply don’t work. The over­all min­i­mal­ism of the album often caus­es it to blend togeth­er and become large­ly unre­mark­able, though Svanängen’s quirky, slight­ly-accent­ed vocals help the album to stand out a bit. How­ev­er, this same dis­tinc­tive vocal qual­i­ty con­stant­ly clash­es with the ener­getic (per­haps over­ly so) music. This is only accen­tu­at­ed by the exces­sive length of many (if not all) of the tracks, as well as the repet­i­tive, un-poet­ic lyrics - “that’s how I fell from twelve sto­ries to the ground” and “time didn’t pay atten­tion to me at all” are two exam­ples from the worst offend­er on the album, “Harm,” both exag­ger­at­ed sub­stan­tial­ly.

It is cer­tain­ly true that repet­i­tive­ness can be the secret to catchy music, and Loney Dear has man­aged this on “Air­port Sur­round­ings,” but past this the same lyri­cal tac­tic which makes pop music so mem­o­rable ceas­es to work. After the first few tracks and espe­cial­ly after the first track itself, this com­bi­na­tion of strange, pin­ing vocals and bare music and lyrics los­es its nov­el­ty and becomes some­what irri­tat­ing, as the over­all dis­so­nance comes into focus.

Dear John is a per­fect exam­ple of squan­dered poten­tial - after the excel­lent first track, “Air­port Sur­round­ings,” the album devolves into a mess of faux-elec­tron­ic min­i­mal­ism, and the promise of that first track is nev­er seen again. The lyrics are unin­spir­ing, the vocals odd, and the music clash­ing. How­ev­er, at the core Dear John proves that Loney Dear is per­fect­ly capa­ble of cre­at­ing an album which both is engag­ing and har­mo­nious. Sad­ly, Dear John itself is not that album.

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