Longtime listeners of the Cardigans will discern a noticeable difference in Nina Persson's voice whenever she sings as part of A Camp, her solo side project, than when she sings with her main band. With the Cardigans, Persson displays a sweet, eternal innocence. With A Camp, Persson sings like a mature, aged woman who's seen her fair share of somber days.
There is a beauty to her vocals that remains present in both projects, but they sound as if they're fronted by two different women. That darker side of Persson gives Colonia many of its most beautiful moments and includes some of her best vocal work to date. As talented as she is, the effort would be for naught if the songs were not up to par. But the album's warm country soul suits Persson's lush, pained voice so well that she could easily make A Camp her new day job with few complaints.
"The Crowning," which opens the album, is a sarcastic ode to a newly crowned "monarch," anchored by Persson's lower register and a rousing arrangement that has elements of indie pop's softer side, but with a country twang. It's a formula that's used to satisfying results on other tracks like "Stronger Than Jesus" and "Love Has Left the Room," all with strong choruses that are as accessible as anything in the Cardigans' catalog, but only with the inclusion of more minor keys. With bright melodies and rich instrumentation, the country/indie pop hybrids make up the liveliest songs on Colonia and are as close to buoyancy as the album gets, despite their sometimes dour content.
Elsewhere, the arrangements are sparse, the tempo is slowed and the gloomy mood of the songs are more apparent. It's in those leisurely paced moments where the true highlights of the album reside, providing the perfect backdrop for Persson as she sings with a sullen tone. "Chinatown" is carried by a haunting guitar riff that evokes as much as sadness as Persson does, while "I Signed the Line" gorgeously soars with forlorn lyrics of an uneasy marriage as vocals and horns sustain at the most heartbreaking moments. Songs like "Bear on the Beach," "It's Not Easy to Be Human" and "Golden Teeth and Silver Medals," a duet with fellow Swede, Nicolai Dunger, also have similar moments where melancholy turns into beauty, thanks in huge part to Persson.
During The Cardigans' hiatus after 1998's Gran Turismo, vocalist Nina Persson released a solo project under the name A Camp, a soft country-tinged indie pop effort mostly known for the excellent single, "I Can Buy You." After eight years and two Cardigans albums later, Persson has delivered another album under the A Camp name. Colonia, much like its predecessor, is as far from The Cardigans' sound as you can get and has more in common with Jenny Lewis or Neko Case than most of the sugary rock that comes out of Sweden these days.