Robyn, Röyksopp, and the Land of Ice Castles

The gate to Annie's recording studio

Perhaps it is telling that the first piece of music I ever purchased was Ace of Base’s The Sign, or perhaps not, considering it was purchased in 1994, when Ace of Base was ubiquitous, and I was 9 years old. But to this day, I enjoy few things as well as an ice-crystal clear, mellifluously melodious Scandopop song.

I’ve always imagined that Scandinavian producers hide out in ice castles, and wear ultra-sleek polar gear to stay warm while recording. They probably go ice fishing for lunch (fresh salmon roll, y’all?) and take photographs of polar bears in between takes.

In what is either a racial accident*** or a very cultivated cultural kinship, the electropop coming out of the northern lands is slick, clean and gorgeous, from Abba onward. Their synths are sharp and pure enough to cut ice, their voices sweet and warm enough to melt the above mentioned palace. The only relevant antithesis is The Knife, who have rebelled by using distortion and reverb as a miserable, sloppy fuck-you to all their shiny brethren. Honestly The Knife may have more in common with metal dudes, aesthetically speaking, than they do, say, Röyksopp.

Which brings me to my point. Fucking Röyksopp. I always saw their foreign name, their umlaut, and thought, that is something Swedish that I don’t have the energy to get into. But today I heard the second best Robyn song ever, and she made it with Röyksopp last year. It’s called: THE GIRL AND THE ROBOT.

You know you’re in for something epic when the song starts with a Wagnerian chorale and a pummeling beat. Robyn uses her signature sincere, love-lorned phrasing to describe her crazy-in-love-love for a robot. This is all wonderfully hilarious and meta, considering the subject matter of Robyn’s other songs.

“The Girl and the Robot” is what emotion sounds like from the north: rigorous structure, strings for added emotional impact, and, most notably, thematic content related to the love between human and machine.

All in all, perhaps we can read Robyn’s all-out yearning for a goddamn robot as Scando’s ballz-out love for machines; after all, without the synthesizer, where would their music be?***

Sometimes you just want to escape to their land of ice castles and clear-cut yearning/hurt/loss/love. In a gray, dirty, humid, windy city such as this, and in the disgusting haze of emotion that is life, isn’t it a comfort to know that something of such idyllic cleanliness and clarity of intent exists somewhere?

***Please keep in mind, this is all facetious, I am not sincerely proposing a racial theory.

Seasonal Affection Depression Disorder SNOW SONGS

S.A.D.D. is... this photo likely taken by an aspiring photographer who goes to Columbia but lives in Logan Square.
S.A.D.D. is... standing alone on the California blue line train platform after you trudged through the snow from a mile away.

Every morning I am awakened by my upstairs neighbor toe-tapping along to her favorite Norteño crooners. Saida: if you are reading this, know that I am still sleeping at 6:30 a.m.! Anyway, today I awoke not to the lively wheeze of accordions but to the whizzz of snow blowers! I looked out my window, and the grit of the junkyard next door was momentarily lost under a fresh layer of white snow. I moved into this apartment in November, so as far as I could tell, the trees around here never had leaves and the street was always a sad gray. But snow did a miracle on this ugly urban landscape. It gave a postcard quality to the block, which normally looks like the backdrop for a crack bust on Law & Order. (At least it does on the corner, where several hobos and a discount tobacco shop hang out.)

In celebration, I made a playlist of “snow songs.” This category is as concrete and as esoteric as I want it to be; the commonality is that all these songs are about or remind me winter. Winter can mean beautiful pastoral scenes in rural America (Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal”) or can mean the compounding of the hood’s human misery during the colder months (Raekwon’s “Cold Outside”). It can sound like the soundtrack for James Bond racing around a villain’s ice castle in a Bentley (Bjork’s “Hunter”) or sound like those quiet, unhappy moments we’re stuck in the house when it’s 10 below (The Knife’s “From Off to On”).

So please enjoy this playlist:

SNOW SONGS 2009 PLAYLIST

A list of the songs so you know what you’re in for:

1. Fleet Foxes: White Winter Hymnal

2. Bjork: Hunter

3. Brian Eno: The Big Ship

4. Rihanna: Cold Case Love

5. Beck: Paper Tiger

6. Charlotte Gainsbourg: IRM

7. Kanye West: Coldest Winter

8. Grizzly Bear + Victoria Legrand: Slow Life

9. Raekwon + Ghostface: Cold Outside

10. Jon Brion: Little Person

11. The Knife: From Off to On

Scandinavian Pop Artists Enthralled by Blood-filled, Beating Hearts

Pop's Most Precious Geniuses Come From This Landmass
Pop's Most Precious Geniuses Come From This Landmass

You know something? Scandinavians sure love singing about heartbeats. I have long thought it was weird that perhaps the two best songs from Scandinavia from the last few years were called “Heartbeat” and “Heartbeats.” But add to that list another really good Scando song, “With Every Heartbeat,” and you’ve got a weird confluence of heartbeats and Scandinavia going on.

Maybe the bodily warmth associated with increased blood flow and cardiovascular uptick is especially appealing to inhabitants of the frozen north. Or maybe Scandinavians are fixated on heartbeats because non-native English singers seem to gravitate toward the mainstays of lyrical content–hearts, being a fool for love, dancing. Or, um, not those things. But I ain’t accusing anyone of poor or uncreative use of language! On the contrary, I am praising the Scandinavians for carrying the torch and capturing the idiosyncrasies of pop language at its finest.

In this day and age, how can we compete with those crystalline waters and cold Nordic mountain springs? Those squeaky clean productionz? That purity of intent?

Beyond their titles, Annie’s “Heartbeat,” The Knife’s “Heartbeats” and Robyn’s “With Every Heartbeat” don’t have that much in common lyrically. Annie and Robyn are definitely of the same school, except that everyone always makes a big deal out of Annie’s coldness (people just can’t stand emotional aloofness in a woman; she should be HOT, not COLD!), and Robyn has sincerity oozing out of her perfect Aryan pores. I will not even pretend to understand what The Knife spend their time singing about. Their music haunts you like an Ibsen play; Heartbeats, in its surging excitement, expresses the closest thing they’ve got to a tangible human emotion.

Anyway, listen to the three tracks linked in this post and enjoy.