erasing clouds

Sambassadeur, Migration

reviewed by dave heaton

I loved the sleek, breezy synth-pop sound of the Swedish group Sambassadeur’s debut album a few years back. But wow, in the time since they have developed that style into something even more special. Their second album Migration is a little more synth-based, with less guitar, and it privileges Anna Persson’s singing voice over that of Daniel Permbo, who sings lead just once here. But mostly they’ve managed to add layers of sound to their music while making the melodies tighter, and in the process bringing the emotions more to the forefront. The harbinger of this progress was 2006’s dynamite single “Kate” – while I’m not sure if this album quite reaches that height, it’s awfully close.

Sambassadeur’s sound contains shades of St Etienne, Pet Shop Boys and the first two Magnetic Fields albums, but they cover Brian Wilson, too (the Spring single “Fallen in Love”). And they’re cheeky enough to grab a bit of a Pavement lyric (“they’re coming to the chorus now”) and throw a very Pavement-esque “I guess” in front of it, within a dance-pop track. “Dance pop” in style, but there’s also a heavy weight behind the singing. In sound this is the lightest of music, but there’s sadness in the lyrics. In the opening song, “The Park”, sadness is being chased away: “Please don’t bring it up tonight / I don’t care if it’s for real or in my mind” is the chorus. The balance here is between shiny, glimmering, gorgeous music – a pretty voice singing great melodies over textured electro-pop, with melancholy shades but light and stylish – and lyrics about tough decisions and heartbreaking moments.

Yet those lyrics are phrased too in a way that balances dreaminess with weight. I love the heartbreak and imagination in lyrics like the chorus of “Subtle Changes”: “Jennie my friend / I won’t let it happen again / I just lost my way when I saw you with him / the falling of stars will come back in fashion again.” “Subtle Changes” is a bittersweet pop single par excellence, and it’s in good company here. “Something to Keep” is another fabulous one, with the protagonist hopeful for happiness but aware of the way nothing lasts, gliding over music that’ll lift you out of your shoes.

The cartographical flavor of the album art echoes in some of the songs, like “The Park”, “That Town” and “Migration”, where people are moving from place to place, away from or towards each other. Really those are the migrations going on in every song - there’s an overall story here of people figuring out their place in relation to each other. And dreaming a new one if they don’t like the truth.


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