loney, dear [2009]

Bottom of the Hill
San Francisco, CA
15 May 2009

It’s not that I think Swedes can’t be cute. I’m sure there are plenty of them out there. It’s just that, when I think of Swedes, I think of 6′ 3″ blond broad-chested warrior types. Not so much with the cute.

Emil Svanängen, better known as Loney, Dear, is downright adorable. He takes my silly American preconceptions about the Swedish people and just obliterates them (the preconceptions, not the people, thankfully).

Svanängen is petite, soft-spoken and yet full of exuberance. And yes, the Swedish accent helps (with the cuteness). As did the puckish smile that accompanied most of the songs.

The recordings of Loney, Dear are terrifically orchestrated affairs – a magical melding of organic instruments with soaring electronic keyboards and sampled sound (See “I Am John” and “Carrying a Stone”). So I was a little curious how Svanängen would go about recreating this live.

And when Svanängen walked out on stage with an acoustic guitar, I knew I was in for something different. But, of course, different isn’t always such a bad thing. And, in this case, it was a really, really good thing.

With the aid of several keyboards, guitars, various percussion and at least one laptop, Svanängen and his band managed to create something both powerful and lush. It wasn’t always as aurally epic as the recordings, and the melody carried by the aforementioned acoustic guitar wasn’t always strong enough, but it was remarkable in its own right.

Without the benefit of studio-perfected audio levels, many of the smaller, more intricate elements of Svanängen’s music were allowed to come to the fore. For one, the vocal transitions to and from falsetto (something that I assumed could only really be pulled off on the recordings) were even more fascinating live.

In this simpler space, Svanängen was able to experiment with sparser versions of many of his songs. For “I Love You (In With the Arms)”, he asked for quiet, stepped away from the mic to the corner of the stage and proceeded to play the first third of the song to a near-silent Bottom of the Hill (not a common occurrence).

This is not to say that it was a quiet night. Even without the studio tools, Svanängen and his band mates produced an incredibly rich and layered sound that filled the room.

I realized on this night that Loney, Dear creates a kind of new-fangled secular church music. The grand scope, the crescendoing waves of organ, the angelic falsetto harmonies. It’s all there.

The service ended with a magnificent rendition of “Sinister In a State of Hope”. I’m not a religious man, but I recognized the moment, stood silent and let the melodies wash over me.