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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