Pelle Carlberg’s an odd choice for a cover model, even for his own album. The thirty-seven-year-old Swedish father of four resembles a ’70s game-show host more than a musician, and the blue eyes and neatly combed hair that crown him don’t scream “pop star” as much as “spin the wheel again, please.” But appearances are deceiving: This safe-looking man owns a song about tracking down the phone number of an unappreciative music critic, aptly titled “Go to Hell, Miss Rydell.”
The former leader of Edson, whose songs he’s incorporated into recent live sets, Carlberg’s only released a couple of EPs (both of which contain tracks from this, his solo debut) and is already working on new material, as this record’s U.S. release comes to us a full year after being issued in Sweden. His solo material has been compared to that of Nick Drake if anyone, but that’s insanely far off: True, he flutters between minimalist moments and full-band affairs, and musically, those full (but acoustic) tracks somewhat recall the retro kitsch appeal of “Hazy Jane II,” dated but soothing. But that’s where the connection ends. The multi-instrumentalist has a knack for writing sweet,’60s- and ’70s-style cult pop under awkwardly keen observations, subjects ranging from apathy toward the needy to the irresistible pull of telemarketers. (For the record, if you’re looking to sell him a subscription, Carlberg can’t say no to a human voice.)
If anything, the ambiguous humor of Carlberg’s narratives matches the odd bounce of Belle and Sebastian (there’s a lot of Stuart Murdoch in his voice as well) or Jonathan Richman in recent years, when cutesiness has begun to wear off and humorous lyrics have developed occasional melancholy undertones. There’s no way to describe his image — the game-show suit, sweet voice, beautiful pop compositions and bizarrely honest lyrics — except to say that he epitomizes Swedish pop. Opener “Musikbyran Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack” sums up this image with its chorus alone: “If I’d die today no one would ever say: ‘Oh, what a pity; he who wrote all those wonderful songs about being small — songs that were witty and pretty.'”
His words come from a gray background, but are snuck into a now-cliché yet festive mélange of glockenspiel, organ and about five guitars (mostly played by Carlberg himself). Carlberg is feeling glum but doesn’t want to be a bother and ruin your merry day, so his songs mutter to themselves while he secretly hopes that you’ll pick up on his mood and reassure him of his self-worth. His passive-aggressive behavior is sweetly disguised without an annoying air of irony, though, and for that method of cleverness, I hope Miss Rydell’s paid him a recent apology.
“Go to Hell, Miss Rydell” MP3
“Middle Class Kid” MP3