Swedish studio techniques are generally uncompromisingly pristine, and Koop’s shiny gloss is no exception. Yet the Stockholm-based duo of Magnus Zingmark and Oscar Simonsson avoids the hollow soullessness that can often result. With Koop Islands, the breezy Koop drifts away from the retro-cool jazz pop of its 2001 breakthrough, Waltz for Koop, and into the airy tropics. The listen is not as engaging, but it’s no less smooth. Koop Islands is precocious and wide-ranging but cogent and subtle.
The Caribbean may serve as principal inspiration, but Zingmark and Simonsson stay true to their roots. Koop’s hepcat style nearly conceals its delicate wit, notably the wry spoken word of Earl Zinger (a.k.a. Rob Gallagher) on “Beyond the Son,” a letter home that contemplates, among other topics, the retirement of Swedish tennis legend Bjorn Borg and the luxury condos overtaking a London neighborhood.
Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun coos above the “Koop Island Blues” in a Francophile bossa nova voyage to the islands. Brun’s whispery tremolo sets the tone: conventional romantic balladry that belies the expansive textural scope of the clarinet and steel-drum arrangement.
In fact all of the guest vocalists are top notch, but Yukumi Nagano, a holdover from Waltz for Koop, is the standout. Her turns on “Whenever There Is You,” “Come to Me,” and “I See a Different Style” put her comfortably alongside the finest young contemporary jazz vocalists.
Koop’s style flirts with electronica, trip-hop, downbeat, and smooth jazz, and it creates a likeable if somewhat weightless atmosphere to curl up with. Vocal jazz numbers alternate with brisk, buoyant excursions. Playful instrumentals like “The Moonbounce” and “Drum Rhythm A” show a deft sense of humor. Groovy, swinging, and inherently palatable, Koop Islands would work equally as well at Starbucks as it would as the soundtrack to a hipster cocktail party.