In the four years since his debut in 2008, Sam Sparro‘s done a lot of growing as an artist. And by that, I mean he has a mustache now.
No, no–he’s matured, his sound and style has developed further, and “I Wish I Never Met You”–the lead single from his upcoming album Return to Paradise–represents that overall evolution. Stripping away the extra synthesizers but maintaining the sleekness of “Black & Gold,” Sparro’s latest is an unbelievably well-crafted marriage between soulful ’70′s disco, piano-led balladry and chilly blasts of Euro-tinged 21st century electronica (a bit Kleerupian, if you will).
The song, which was co-written by Swedish singer-songwriter Erik Hassle (so you already know it’s good), sees Sparro alternating between aggression and anguish as he laments his last love affair. It’s just amazing.
Actually, it’s so amazing, I just started listing out bits and pieces of its amazingness, including (but not limited to):
Erik Hassle, the Swede-pop prince behind the massive 2008 Swedish smash “Hurtful” (which also saw some lukewarm lovin’ in the US and the UK back in 2010), is back for another round of gorgeously crooned torment.
Penned by Malin Dahlström of Niki & The Dove, “Stay” is Hassle’s devastating lead single from his forthcoming second studio album due out in late spring. “Stay with me/You don’t have to go,” Hassle pleads during the song’s chorus. More stripped than “Hurtful,” the production relies on a haunting piano melody, strings and a slow-soldiering beat, as Hassle agonizes over lost love: “If you love someone, you should not let it show.”
At one point, he offers a quiet exchange between the two, almost like the bridge of Robyn‘s “Be Mine”: “How you doin’ now?/I said ‘It’s been a while and I’m fine’/You said ‘Are you happy? But are you happy?’/Wait, wait/Just wait, don’t tell me you’re in love!” he cries.
For those who found themselves sobbing to Adele‘s “Someone Like You” last year (and really, how could you avoid it?), consider this one an apt tear-addled companion.
“Stay” was released on April 16 in Sweden. (iTunes Sweden)
A funny thing happened a few weeks ago as I was putting together my post Amazing Things I’m Listening to From Sweden, Vol. 5.
There was so much amazing fucking music from Sweden that I literally died.
And then I was brought back to life in time to write Vol. 6 of my ongoing series, Amazing Things I’m Listening to From Sweden.
John Dahlbäck – One Last Ride [feat. Erik Hassle] (Radio Edit)
It is an incontrovertible truth that everything Erik Hassle does is amazing. That said, he does lean more on the MOR/adult-contemporary end of the pop spectrum, which makes this dance single an even more welcome change of pace for the ginger-haired whiz kid from Katrineholm. A collaboration with remix king John Dahlbäck — whose remix of Nicole Scherzinger’s “Right There” was the best thing about the whole Killer Love campaign — “One Last Ride” combines the wistful yearning of all of Erik’s work with house-friendly beats and a can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head chorus of Erik’s honeyed voice repeating “Your love is sweet” ad infinitum. As packaged on Beatport (you can buy this one, y’all!) with some bonkers remixes from Tommy Trash and Felix Cartal, “One Last Ride” has serious stateside potential for club play. Fellow Swedish great Robyn once memorably said “I really don’t want no hassle.” When that Hassle is Erik, however, I’m always willing to make an exception.
Ask Embla – Northern Light
Between the two of them, Icelandic scribe Arnthor Birgisson and Norwegian singer-songwriter Ina Wroldsen have produced some of the finest pop of the last few years: Ina wrote “He About to Lose Me” for Britney Spears and “You Make Me Feel” for Cobra Starship; Arnthor penned hits for Jessica Simpson and Samantha Mumba during the millennial teen pop boom; together, they are responsible for Shontelle’s “Impossible” and “Higher” by The Saturdays. But after performing at near-Stargate levels of excellence for several years, the pair (who work out of Stockholm, making their inclusion on this list justifiable) have formed their own group: The electropop duo Ask Embla. As their frontwoman, Ina Wroldsen’s voice is rich and a little dissonant, with a lovely vibrato — which perfectly fits the icy ballad “Northern Light.” Unsurprisingly, all the other tracks on their SoundCloud are superb, too, especially “Father’s Eyes” and “Winter.”
Melanie Wehbe – Irresistible
Melanie Wehbe was a finalist on this year’s Swedish Idol, but got an early boot because, according to an explanation from the great blog Scandipop, she “doesn’t have the right look for an artist in 2011.” This, obviously, is bullshit — because Melanie Wehbe looks just like Rebecca Black! (Doesn’t she, sort of?) Regardless, her first single, “Irresistible,” is a hundred different kinds of excellent — a big, American-sounding kiss-off to a lover who’s “irre-irre-irre-irresistible,” like a slightly lusher “Domino” by Jessie J. Most importantly, it contains the following lyric (unless my ears are fooling me): “I’d better post a tweet.” Good luck resisting this one, folks.
Serenades – Come Home
Christmas is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to start preparing — and “Come Home” is exactly the right kind of holiday ditty that could also serve as a perennial favorite. Criminal Heaven, the debut album from Serenades — a duo formed of Adam Olenius, frontman of the ever-amazing Swedish indie popsters Shout Out Louds, and Laakso vocalist Markus Krunegård — combines Beach Boys surf-rock with ‘80s synths and hooky melodies for a sound that’s simultaneously modern and referential. “Come snow, come home,” Adam urges, before unleashing a sweetly sad chorus: “I don’t want to know what it’s like to spend/The holidays on my own/I don’t want to hear another Christmas song/About love when I’m on my own.”
Amanda Mair – Doubt
The fact that Amanda Mair is the latest artist to sign to Labrador Records — home of The Radio Dept, Club 8, and formerly the Sound of Arrows — is more than enough to pique my interest. She’s also 16, gorgeous (in a young tangle-haired femme fatale Sky Ferreira kind of way), with the kind of high, ethereal voice that mysterious teenage girls from remote Swedish islands probably tend to have. Her label describes her as “Dusty Springfield produced by Kate Bush,” and I think this is a very apt description. Precocious, with piercingly honest lyrics — in the bridge, she asks simply, “Will love destroy me?” in the song’s most haunting moment — she’s one to watch out for.
Sam Lansky is a contributor to MuuMuse.
Fact: The Swedes are a superhuman race sent from the future to make amazing pop music.
Due to this undeniable truth, Swedish pop stars you’ve never heard of snatch wigs from your favorite pop stars for fun — just because they can. In my ongoing series, Amazing Things I’m Listening to From Sweden, I review the best Swedish exports that are currently blowing up the charts (i.e., getting blasted at ear-splitting volume in my apartment).
Le Kid – America
Pop outfit Le Kid first appeared on the scene in 2009 with “Mercy Mercy,” a thoroughly enjoyable pop gem that sounds a bit like a less sultry redux of Girls Aloud‘s single “Can’t Speak French.” But Le Kid’s ensuing singles, like the ebullient “We Should Go Home Together,” were a little too schlagerific for my taste — as evidenced by their particularly high-octane Melodifestivalen entry, “Oh My God.” Their less giddy efforts, including their striking cover of The Killers‘ perennial favorite “Mr. Brightside,” pointed in a direction of greater subtlety â€” and that’s exactly the stride they’ve hit with their newest single, “America.” It belongs to the same category of nostalgic midtempo dance-pop that Xenomania have mastered with Girls Aloud and Mini Viva (see “Call the Shots” and “I Wish” for more) without collapsing into schlager hysterics — and that’s something worth celebrating.
Swedish House Mafia – Save the World [feat. John Martin]
Swedish House Mafia have certainly demonstrated a track record for epic club jams, and “Save the World” is no exception. Instrumentally, it’s ground well traveled, but the dizzying euphoric heights the song builds to work just as well as they ever have. “Save the World” is further redeemed by excellent vocals from John Martin, whose voice â€” like a combination of Miike Snow‘s Andrew Wyatt and Coldplay‘s Chris Martin â€” strikes just the right balance between strength and longing. A surefire summer smash.
Therese – Drop It Like It’s Hot
This dance anthem has been kicking around online for awhile, but it’s just crossing my radar now â€” and I must admit that 2010 would have been a much more enjoyable year if it had included a little Therese. What starts out as by-the-numbers house music turns into a massive singalong smash by the unforgettable chorus. Lyrics are as follows: “Dance, dance, why don’t you dance like a freak/This ghetto place is so much better when you dance with me.” Now featuring a glittery remix package from house kings Wideboys, Therese deserves to join the ranks of September and Velvet among Sweden’s most prized dance divas.
Killabite – Follow Me Home
It’s ironic, yet not altogether surprising, that Los Angeles-based duo Killabite are only releasing music in Sweden, given that their brand of glitchy, gleaming dance-pop is decidedly Scandinavian in its sensibilities. I’d love to see the duo gain some domestic traction, but until then, I can still get some serious mileage out of “Follow Me Home,” a thunderous slice of futuristic pop co-written by famed DJ Axwell. Killabite’s storied pedigree doesn’t hurt, either: female vocalist Chau Phan performed backup vocals for the Holy Spearit herself on “I Wanna Go” and “Criminal.”
Those Dancing Days – I’ll Be Yours
Hipster girl group Those Dancing Days got some blog buzz back in 2008 with the release of their candy-sweet single, “Hitten,” but I would have expected them to garner more hype with the release of their sophomore album, Daydreams & Nightmares. After all, the record was produced by such luminaries as Max Martin & Shellback, as well as Patrik Berger, who has helmed tracks for fellow Swedes Robyn, Erik Hassle, and Icona Pop. Those Dancing Days exist in the same luscious retro space as The Pipettes and, to a lesser extent, Lykke Li â€” and “I’ll Be Yours” is as wistfully charming as anything they’ve done yet.
Release notes: “Save the World,” “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” and “I’ll Be Yours” are all available on US iTunes â€” “America” and “Follow Me Home” are still awaiting US release, but can both be found on Swedish iTunes and 7digital SE.
Fact: In Sweden, it is illegal to make bad music.
Okay, so this may not be empirically true, but it is a reality that the Swedes are known for exporting pop of the very highest quality. In my ongoing series, Amazing Things I’m Listening to From Sweden, I discuss the best Scandipop that’s been quietly slaying your faves.
Andreas Wijk – Like My Style
Andreas Wijk is a Swedish fashion blogger and model who looks like, well, a Swedish fashion blogger and model. (Photographic evidence here, here, and here. Please try not to kill yourself.) In typically life-isn’t-fair fashion, though, Andreas is additionally endowed with some impressive vocal gifts: A smooth, likable voice that would fit perfectly among, say, the boys of The Wanted. His debut single, “Like My Style” â€” and indeed we do, Andreas â€” is a surprisingly self-assured little pop bauble that sounds like Erik Hassle as produced by Dr. Luke. While there may not be a lot of crossover potential here, the combination of style and “Style” (see what I did there?) should be more than enough to attract the attention of teh gayz â€” who are, as we all know, the only listening audience that really count.
Beldina – Here We Go
The dopest bassline I’ve heard this year comes courtesy of Beldina Malaika, a Kenyan-Swedish neo-soul songbird whose new single, “Here We Go,” has been generating buzz all over the place. Instrumentally, it’s a nice throwback to 2007-era Justice, even if it does tread the well-traveled lyrical territory of prepping for a G.N.O. It doesn’t have the punk theatricality of Adiam Dymott or the twee levity of Asha Ali, but Beldina’s sound is slick, polished, and modern. I’d call it a welcome addition to the canon of Sweden-by-way-of-Africa vocalists.
Lykke Li – Sadness is a Blessing
Lykke Li’s sophomore effort, Wounded Rhymes, is a stunning hour of dark-as-pitch pop, but I’m particularly drawn to what’s slated to be the second UK single: “Sadness is a Blessing.” The track is both sad and majestic, without any of the preciousness that colored Youth Novels, and this confidence points to the artist’s developing sonic maturity. After all the brash swagger of “Get Some,” it’s refreshing to see Lykke return to a place of vulnerability.
Erik Hassle – Stay Away
I consider Erik Hassle the unsung hero of the Swedish pop scene. Sure, his music veers further toward the MOR pop-rock vein of The Fray or Snow Patrol than the icy electropop promulgated by Robyn and September, but I expected that this would result in a warmer international reception than the one he’s received; if a song as infectious as “Hurtful” can’t get radio play, then there is truly no justice in the world of music programming. “Stay Away” is the second single from his latest EP, Mariefred Sessions, following the MuuMuse Approved “Are You Leaving,” and it’s similarly melancholy, but with more strumming guitars than chilly synths. The fact that Mariefred Sessions went to #1 on the iTunes Sweden album chart the day it was released is a small consolation for this criminally underrated act.
Sara Lumholdt – Enemy
No shade to Eric Saade, but this was my favorite track to emerge from this year’s Melodifestivalen. It doesn’t hurt that Sara Lumholdt was once one-fourth of the epic bubblegum pop group A*Teens â€” alongside her better-known blonde counterpart, Marie Serneholt â€” and also performed circa 2007 under the pseudonym Sara Love, releasing a truly epic trash-pop single called “Glamour Bitch.” (Seriously.) History aside, “Enemy” swagga-jacks the hell out of Jordin Sparks‘ “Battlefield,” from the chord progression to the love-is-violence extended metaphor, and that is not a bad thing. So what if it’s derivative? It’s catchy, melodramatic, and highly listenable.