In the almost 10 years since this reviewer last encountered Emil Svanängen, the Jönköping-born talent behind the Loney Dear moniker, in an intimate Sugar Club performance, he’s gone and changed his style. For reasons potentially related to the parlous state of the gig economy, or perhaps just in the spirit of shaking things up a little, a full touring band is now a sparse gang of two featuring Emil himself and fellow multi-instrumentalist Klas-Henrik (an equally talented and taciturn Swede).
None of this really matters in terms of pure experience however, as he lopes on stage in the Workman’s Club, looking like he received a Third Class Honours from the Chris Martin School of Generic Rockstar attire, his once homespun image (Spotify lumps him in the Beards and Flannel category) replaced with what can only be described as a raggedy New Romantic look, replete with face paint and fluorescent tape adornments spelling out the name of our Fair City on his synthesiser rack.
Immediately he begins building songs from the ground up, starting with a scatting vocal and layering keys, guitar and various samples, all topped off by his powerful Ben Bridwell-esque falsetto, the ragtag band of true believers in the audience are entranced by the artist described by Peter Gabriel as Europe’s answer to Brian Wilson.
New tracks dispatch his traditionally cuddly layering for icier electronics and standout single ‘Hulls’ provides the first moment of chills during the set. English Riviera-era Metronomy with a dollop of Nordic noir in its swelling synth and haunting vocal (he is my sadness, he is my burden), we can’t help but wonder if this is mere projected self-flagellation or something more sinister.
It’s not all gloomy however, as Svanängen proves to be a dab hand at compliments (You guys speak as both God and I intended English to be spoken), while frantically swapping instruments, strapping on a bass for some elaborate riffing during ‘Sum’, featuring tribal chants, bubbling synths and a soaring vocal reminiscent of the aforementioned Genesis front man.
As with many of the best loop-based troubadours, things fall apart occasionally, but he keeps it going, freestyling a ditty about the Liffey and the rooftop bar of the Workman’s Club on a glitch-ridden keyboard. Nice save. The mood is rapt and enthusiastic, one attendee even lets loose a sole expletive of praise during a particularly impressive vocal line. He treats us to a Christmas song (‘December Lillies’) with a slight apology, as if this was anachronistic in February in Ireland.
A request for ‘I Love You’ falls flat as he forgets the lyrics, but promises to play it next time, and we forgive him again, maybe because of his honesty, but also because when he launches into the celestial ‘Ignorant boy, Beautiful Girl’, which has both soundtracked a Volvo ad in the UK and been sampled by Italian rocker Zucchero on 2016’s ‘Voci’, we know that this is the one we will be singing all the way back to the bus stop and on the way home, the next morning and perhaps for ever more.
Loney no more, Emil Svanangen is truly a talent apart. In the pantheon of modern indie pop savants, he has long stood shoulder to shoulder with fellow countrymen such as Jens Lekman and contemporaries such as Panda Bear, an alchemist distilling pure melody from everyday sounds to create something truly transcendent.
Long may he continue.