Embrace in Stereo / Valentine Vacancy EP
(Self-released; 2006 / 2007)
By David Ritter | 1 December 2009
Pop songs are small things. A bit of harmony, a bit of rhythm. A little snatch of melody. The very tiniest of a new spin on a dogmatic set of conventions. We rant and pace and rend our clothing in their honour, and in return they express that most insipid set of emotions: puppy love, etc. What an unfathomable mystery, then, that I stand before you deep in love with the songs of Jonas Jonsson. In a world where Bach’s B Minor Mass and Mozart’s Requiem are available for free to anyone with high speed internet I submit to you the two EPs* from Bedroom Eyes, a band whose mighty thrall—like that of all great pop bands—comes from somewhere hard to see.
There are several things on “Motorcycle Daydream (demo)” alone that Jonsson gets absolutely right. The opening arpeggio clears the air for the tight acoustic rhythm that enters with the band. The drummer moves from ride to hi-hat at the top of the verse, providing the kind of variation-punch normally reserved for a chorus. The trumpet in the chorus is placed just so in the mix: not too big, not too tinny. The whole piece is a study in how to craft a tight pop arrangement.
These touches of deft precision permeate each of these eight tracks, leaving not a dud among them. If you sign on to the Bedroom Eyes sound, each song is your favourite, and thus Jonsson seems, for now at least, to have solved the ultimate pop problem: consistency. Either he is a great editor, leaving his subpar work hidden from view, or he is simply crushing it, matching pie-eyed lyrical turn to delicate hook in arrangements that always give just enough and no more. Throw in up-a-notch, rocket-to-the-sun moments like the second half of “The Skywriter” and you’re somehow transfiguring hackneyed adolescence and decades-old chords into some next level shit.
The helium-light delivery that Jonsson shares with so many of his fellow Swedes gives lyrics that would be cringe-worthy in a lesser singer the power of old love letters. Thus the refrain from “Stethoscope Sounds (demo)”—“This life writes no I.O.U.’s / Let’s put every moment left to use”—is not a carpe diem from your stank-pits latin teacher but a call to arms from your better self. And though the populism we find in “Norwegian Pop (demo)” with “Songs we hold close / Learned us more about this life / Than those years / Sitting cornered in a classroom” was better said by Springsteen, Jonsson brings a warmth, and a softness, to his version that places him in striking distance of the master. In fact, both EPs gesture toward the kind of epic grandeur shared by such opposites as the Boss and Belle & Sebastian, but with paper-heart love where dirty pickup engines or bookish agnosticism used to be. Jonsson’s songs are thus twee more in sentiment than sound, with stadium-rock potential shining out from amongst all those big chords.
These Bedroom Eyes EPs, in each and every one of their eight songs, are right, and I am righteous in my celebration of them. Each song is made of melodies and bridges and outros that shine with the light of their justice, that ring with the truth of the world. Jonsson himself gestures toward this kind of dawn-bright perfection by including a quotation from the opening arpeggio in the dying seconds of the Embrace in Stereo EP, bending the straight line from A to B into a closed circle. I affirm the beauty of this work, and I draw a giant arrow to where it can be found, but of course I cannot really explain it, or indicate its source. I can only sort of taste it, and drink deep.
*Some of these demos were released by Cloudberry Records as Hand-in-Hand Grenade. The debut full-length, I’m told, is forthcoming.