Swedish Acts Mix Fire and Ice, Occasionally Get Lukewarm Water


“Speedy” is not quite the apt descriptor for José González’s velocity. The Swedish singer-songwriter’s sole album, Veneer (reissued on Mute in the spring), is actually now three, and thus old enough to walk. Or as he himself openly mumbles, “My moves are slow/But soon you’ll know.” Delivered as if he was just waking up from a Cat Stevens nap, songs like “Heartstain” and “Deadweight on Velveteen” offer neither the felicity (or despair) of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon nor the hypnotic heart murmurs of the master, João Gilberto. González draws from that same whispered well, but his acoustic playing is café-polite and plunky, though with some chunky punk chords underneath. Meaning some Hollywood Records band should quicken the quiet seethe of “Slow Moves” to the breakneck hit it’s destined to be.

That’d serve as poetic justice for how José scraped the “Girl U Want” synth off fellow countrymen the Knife’s “Heartbeat” for his cover on Veneer, revealing the moody morning-after side of the tune. But the brother-sister pair can strip their Europop to a heart of darkness just fine on their own. Silent Shout offers severe mood swings, smashing pop ambient into bleak house; mixed up, the Knife’s bubblegum has turned to Brechtian art-song. Karin Dreijer Andersson’s vocals are now processed and oppressed—her once Björkian bubble and squeak get steamrolled, chopped ‘n’ screwed, and then thrown inside the funhouse calliope of “We Share Our Mother’s Health.” Meanwhile, brother Olof Dreijer distills digital beats out of gulag drips, geologically pressing the keyboards until they’re as compact and icy as tundras. Packed in such snow, Shout‘s music gets crisp and cozy, so the dancefloor heat of “Like a Pen” really does “feel like 500 degrees.”