Until recently, Eric Berglund, the mastermind behind ceo and a Tough Alliance member, kept things surrounding ceo pretty mysterious. Most of the press photos showed Berglund wearing shawls and outfits that covered his face — he looks like a character from Final Fantasy — and ceo’s official website didn’t offer much in the way of answers, either. Then, Pitchfork’s Marc Hogan scored an interview with Berglund, and the floodgates were opened behind the roots and motivations of the ceo project.
This now makes White Magic a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure situation. It can be viewed as a consistently breezy, painstakingly crafted pop album in the continued vein of the Tough Alliance and other tropical explorers like Air France. On the other hand, it can be viewed as a dense, cathartic blast of happiness, an extended sigh of relief after a tough emotional time in the artist’s life. With or without Berglund’s facade of secrecy, though, White Magic is undoubtedly a success.
The album clocks in at a mere 28 minutes, and Berglund seems to be aware that there isn’t much room for clunkers. He spares no expense, coating each song in at least two or three different hooks and all sorts of instrumental weirdness. Berglund and Sincerely Yours artist Kendal Johansson played every instrument on the album, and there are a lot of them. Lush string sections carry opener “All Around” and the spare, almost Beatles-esque “Oh God Oh Dear.” Crystalline keyboards pop up all over the place. Berglund even records the sounds of two katanas scraping together for the rollicking “No Mercy,” giving the upbeat track an unexpected element of menace.The influence of electronic music hovers over almost the entire album’s drum tracks, and vocal samples are weaved throughout like transmissions from the real world into the dream reality Berglund has conjured up. It’s all a little overwhelming to take in at once, and at times borders on sensory overload, which makes Berglund’s vocal presence as the higher-pitched, yearning-drenched tour guide that much more welcome as it gives us something to latch on to.
And songs like “Illuminata” and “Come With Me” are just about impossible not to latch onto. The former is pure exuberance, bouncing around like an even more caffeinated version of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” riding ascending and descending keyboard lines like candy-coated staircases. “Come With Me” thrives on its groove-riding abilities, making it the most concise statement of everything that makes this album work.
While it all sounds a little scatterbrained on paper, White Magic makes sense. In crafting an album that represents an emotional epiphany in Berglund’s life, it’s a little shortsighted to expect it to be a nice and tidy affair. Instead, it effectively acts as a portrait of leaving behind the negative, offering a half-hour’s worth of expertly crafted escapism that shoots off in several different directions, like an elaborate fireworks display.