Having lit a fire in my heart in 2006 with his self released gem Sologne and then left me feeling slightly flat with his debut release for Sub Pop Loney, Noir, Emil Svanangen had some work to do with his latest offering Dear John. It's not that I didn't like Loney, Noir, it was just that it did the same as Sologne and at the end of my review for the Sub Pop debut I was looking for improvement. Well I am pleased to say that though Dear John follows much the same path as all the rest it is a very different affair in maturity and all-round scale.
The charm of Sologne was in its DIY simplicity. Simple, underproduced songs delivering perfect morsels of hope and warmth to a barren world. Well Svanangen's sound has grown up somewhat since we last heard him and Dear John emerges from the first moment as a mightier more determined and self aware composition. Airport Surroundings gleams with this new maturity as it breathes first life into the record. From the outset it's clear that Svanangen has no need for his DIY equipment anymore as a highly produced and simmering techno beat form the basis of this first song. It ticks along uneasily while all the time swelling to a gently crescendo. Layers of instruments join the march and Svanangen's own vocals are multi-tracked to great effect as the feeling of amassing detail pile on top of each other for the grand finale. And this is just track one.
As is often the case in life, with added maturity comes added pressure and consequently added tension. Much of this record relies on this brooding tension. Svanangen's warmth and hopeful slant are very much present but everything simmers none the less. The way he conjures up this feeling is the use of the gentle build. Many of the songs follow the same pattern of a tip-toe start followed by a huge rise in sound. It works very well throughout the first 4 tracks with this pattern being followed in varying degrees of intensity. I Was Only Going Out has the same effect but with a more subtle approach, and Harsh Words to even subtler ends. However it does start to get slightly predictable. It's not until we get to Under A Silent Sea that the pattern changes, and it needs to. The song floats on a gentle guitar pick to a point where a near euphoric House beat threatens to take off, but Svanangen resists the temptation to rocket off and instead takes it all down again and replaces it with a stark programmed beat that sees out the rest of the song. It's a masterful piece of construction and pace and actually opens up the rest of the album. It leaves room for the backbone song Summers which will remind any fan of why they fell in love with this music. It bucks the trend of the slow build and just skips along on a blissful beat for 4 perfect minutes. Like all his music this song sees Svanangen whispering sweet tales of loss and regret with great swathes of melancholia and yet your heart dances along all the time. It's the song to see us through this pesky recession. In fact if the credit crunch were a movie this song would be the closing song titles when everything turned out ok.
Svanangen had a more than sturdy foundation on which to build and with Dear John he has really used it to it's full potential. He's got numerous instruments each adding texture and richness to his sound, he's got choral accompaniment, driving production and a voice dripping with sweetness. It's the perfect blend and works a treat here. You need this record if you want to make it out the other side of this cold winter. It's a triumphant marching band of hope that knows the pitfalls ahead and feels the pain of the past but marches on nonetheless.