The first line of Loney, Dear’s homepage reads: “Every night before I go to bed I try to find a not so good review of the new album, and I get what I ask for.” These are the words of Emil Svanängen, the man behind Loney, Dear’s new record Dear John. Svanängen’s interest in the critical reception of his new record isn’t limited to corners of his website, it also finds its way onto the record, specifically on ‘Harsh Words’ where Svanängen pleads with someone “not to use harsh words over me, over what I do.” He’s asking you not to say he doesn’t try hard, as his voice gets lost in a flurry of percussion. It’s clear he does try hard – the ambient elements of the songs are sewn together meticulously – but you’d have to be a hardened Loney, Dear fan to find this cute at all.
There isn’t really any space for ‘harsh words’ in criticising Svanängen’s music, but the fact that he’s underlined a problem stops the music from moving somewhere meaningful. The real snag is Svanängen’s vocals. The strange layering of voices is grating at times. The lyrics come off as superfluous as much of it amounts to lonely muttering and if not muttering, then throwaway nah-nahing, as on ‘Airport Surroundings’. This is a pop record, with the Scandinavian drum machine beats reminiscent of weaker Tough Alliance tunes. It’s hard to shirk the thought that Bavarians do it better though (in Loney, Dear’s case) and the melancholy that Svanängen aims for is what Lali Puna nailed on Scary World Theory.
It’s hard not to mention Jens Lekman in a review for a Swedish pop album, but he is the zeitgeist, the pinnacle. Dear John lacks what Lekman has by the bucket load: wit. And at the moments when it’s most needed, if not to let the listener in, it just isn’t there. This is a cathartic exercise for Svanängen, as was the case on Solonge, and Loney Noir, but the catharsis is the artist’s own. He isn’t sharing much, and that stops you from accessing a record that is entirely pleasant and well-intentioned. Sadly, it doesn’t feel like that’s enough.