Once you realize that Loney, Dear's Emil Svanängen is a former pro-cyclist, it becomes impossible to listen to his sophomore offering, Dear John, without picturing yourself on a bicycle.
The franticly paced album opener, "Airport Surroundings," is the soundtrack to an adrenalin-pumped sprint. "Everything Turns to You," with its ominous, pulsating arrangement, is the accompaniment to a tension-filled head-to-head uphill stretch. The mounting euphoria and throbbing rhythms of "Summer" and "Harsh Words" are ideal for a cycle in the Swedish countryside. When the triumphant brass section kicks in, you want to find yourself with your feet off the pedals, freewheeling down a mountainside.
There is a somber shift on tracks like the pensive "I Was Only Going Out" and the haunting "Distant," rendering them less conducive to a carefree cycle, despite the "Me and Julio Down by the School Yard" whistling and the operatic choir crescendo at the close of each. This newfound melancholy marks a welcome change in Loney, Dear's mood from the perpetual cheeriness of Loney Noir. Here Svanängen's emotions show less uniformity; they sweep from maudlin to euphoric, making the album fuller and richer than its predecessor.
Svanängen's affection for layering and multi-instrumentalism on Loney Noir set him apart from his more lyrically inclined compatriot Jens Lekman, with whom he is all too often lazily lumped. On Dear John, this affinity for intricacy develops from the shuffling electronic beats of "Under a Silent Sea" to the rolling drums of the marching band on closer "Dear John."
Svanängen's limited vocal range and nasally voice grate at times, as do his clumsy grammar and cutesy pronunciation. The album's weaker moments come when Svanängen wallows in his recently acquired sadness, on the insipid "I Got Lost" and the despondent "Harm" with its ill-advised lifting of Albioni's "Adagio," the sense of intimacy veers dangerously close to claustrophobia. Yet it is the span of moods, paired with the elaborate arrangements, which reveal something new with every listen, that make Dear John an album worth persevering with. Just watch out for the traffic.
Emil Svanangen's fifth album since Loney Dear's inception in 2003 marks the end of a particular journey for him. While it doesn't mean the end of Loney Dear, Dear John is the concluding chapter of his recordings so far. It is apparently the album he has wanted to make all along; he'd have you believe it's his masterpiece.
Recorded in his home studio and his parent's home, featuring the violin skills of his touring partner Andrew Bird, Svanangen describes Dear John as a love letter to himself and a goodbye note to his loved ones. Possibly the only Dear John letter that someone would actually want to receive.