In bloom

For the last 40 years or so, pop music has been created beat first. That is, the songwriter (often the producer) picks a beat and hangs a song on it. Anni-Frid Lyngstad of ABBA is quoted (in many varying versions; darn Internet) saying she cried when she first heard the beats for "Dancing Queen."

Moody Swedes aside, it's pretty safe to say that disco, new wave and most pop since have been beat-driven. These days, producers toss beats out to "writers," who will then sing lyrics and melodies over the bare bones to create demos. Sometimes, what sounds like a demo becomes the actual released version of a song (think "Royals"). Some of the catchiest music in the world has been written this way. Very little of it, however, has any staying power.

Kalle Mattson
Someday, the Moon Will Be Gold
(Parliament of Trees)

I don't know the best way to write a song, but most of the stuff I really like has a thicker foundation than the beat-driven fare. Though there are plenty of examples of classic songs written in largely the same style. Sometimes a song keys on a single instrument and drapes the rest of the arrangement around that. Try to imagine the early Rolling Stones without Keith Richards' guitar. Of course you can't. But those early Stones songs, while still awesomely powerful, have nothing on the more complex and crafted songs of Let It Bleed or Beggars Banquet.

Kalle Mattson approaches his songs from every angle. Some of the pieces here are sturdy rockers with blasty orchestration. Some are introspective folk bits. Some are pretty jangle pop. The foundation of his songs is wide and varied. And no matter how the songs themselves are built, this album holds together solely on the sound of Mattson's reedy voice. The vulnerability he projects infuses this album with a spirit of strength.

That strength is important, as the lyrical theme of this album is Mattson's coming to terms with grief, loss and the future (he's just 23, and this is already his third album). The bright production on these songs wrings hope from some truly dark places, but Mattson's lyrics also refuse to sink despite their often bleak outlook.

Acceptance can be its own form of hope. And the toughest times can create great art. Sometimes, though, the passage of time does most of the work. Mattson has been around long enough to get an idea of how he wants his music to sound. This album, much more than his first two, shows a real sense of purpose and sonic vision. The writing is stronger, too. In all, a real step forward.

I prefer my music to be complex. Single element-driven songs can be crunchy fun, but I like to crawl down the wormhole and see what's kicking. Mattson's latest gives me plenty of places to hide. The perfect accompaniment to a setting sun.

Jon Worley

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