For many years I have held the personal – and somewhat nerdy – belief that most music can be described by a bell curve. Yes, I am aware that even the mere mention of the word “curve” may trigger PTSD-inducing flashbacks to that college chemistry class or statistics in general. Nonetheless, it is important to note that music and math have long been intertwined – from the widespread shunning of the devil’s tritone by classical composers (It has six “satantic” semitones) to modern mothers’ insistence on touting the marvels of the Mozart effect. Therefore, it seems reasonable that a metaphor for our relationship with new songs has a mathematical component as well. Let me explain further.
Most people have a hard time falling in love with a new song the first time they listen to it. Whether through gifted mixes or just an implicit endorsement, a friend’s musical recommendation always seems to fall short – at first. However, after just a few plays, the song that is destined to be our favorite finds a safe place in our hearts and iPod playlists alike. Unfortunately, this romance begins to unravel not so long after. The more we satisfy our insatiable craving for a particular track, the less it seems to satisfy. Eventually, we are left with a song that simply sounds good, but no longer elicits emotion.
It seems that most new music lacks instant appeal largely because we don’t know what to expect. Presented with myriad melodic motifs, the listener is easily fatigued due to lack of context. After several listens though, the structure of the song becomes apparent and the crush begins. This familiarity may sound boring as described, though it’s anything but. Knowing where a melody is heading allows us to hum along, clap our hands, and tell our chatty friends when to shut up – all while we anticipate that next great musical rush looming on the horizon. Regrettably, this well-deserved intimacy is short-lived, as one can only perch atop the curve for so long without cascading down the other side. With one’s favorite song stuck on “repeat,” predictability soon predominates and the listener is left looking for the next easy out. The love affair is over.
Despite this ongoing cycle, I have long wished for a steady stream of songs that could win a place in my heart the very moment I heard them, yet also have the longevity of a favorite pair of jeans – like love at first sight coupled with the long-lasting potential of a soul mate. To be honest, this fantasy seemed unlikely to ever occur.
Recently though, it seems that Swedish sensation Love Is All has found a cure for the fleeting fling. Although songs with immediate satisfaction and staying power do already exist, they are uncommon and seemingly stumbled upon by artists unable to reproduce their accidental success. In contrast, all 12 tracks on Love Is All’s new LP Two Thousand and Ten Injuries provide instant intrigue, and after 20 listens to the album – it’s that addicting – not one of the songs managed to lose its initial charm. Somewhat perplexed, though obviously pleased, I pondered what had made this album so likeable (And I mean the snuggle-up-in-bed and take-home-to-your-parents type). After hours of misguided musing though, I realized why there was no complex formula to explain this – it was simply the album’s simplicity.
Don’t be mistaken, as Two Thousand… is a well-planned piece of pop. After what began as a casual exchange of ideas via email in early 2009, the band gathered at their home-built studio in Gothenburg, Sweden to record their first independent and most strikingly cohesive album to date. Recorded solely on a 24-track analog tape machine, the usual tinkering and tweaking that accompanied prior sessions was just not possible. Forced to conceptualize a song in its entirety, vocalist Josephine Olausson noted, “Everything is now there for a reason.” Love Is All has capitalized on this less-is-more philosophy by trimming the post-punk clutter of their previous albums and focusing on refined riffs, diverse drum beats, and discrete lyricism on love. Longtime fans should not despair though, as Love Is All’s characteristic frenetic edginess has only been tempered, not trashed.
Most responsible for eliciting immediate affection is the cavalcade of catchy melodies, which are so simplistic no prior exposure is necessary. For instance, third track “Never Now” relies heavily on the shimmering triplets of a jangly guitar, soaring up and back down a major scale. It’s so basic that it would be boring if not for the sonic texturing of the synth/saxophone combo and groovy swagger of the drums. Nonetheless, the recognizable motif provides an irresistible hook that charms from the very first listen. Similarly, both guitar and piano on “Again, Again” persistently drone on the major third before falling back to tonic at the end of each phrase. In this case, its reserved melody is not only responsible for the track’s allure but also reflects the mood itself, as Olausson painfully recalls a protracted wait for a lover’s phone call before eventually giving up hope.
Despite acutely infecting hearts with joyous jingles, the songs derive their incurable appeal from an intrinsic spirit of fun. No song encapsulates this better than “Bigger Bolder,” the album opener. Pushed along by a driving bass and sassy organ – the drums complete the polka – this instrumental free-for-all is like being caught in an emotionally invigorating whirlwind. Two Thousand… does more than elicit feelings of exuberance, though – it is the musical representation of it. Like inexplicably smiling when seeing another person laugh, the music reflexively triggers unavoidable euphoria and ecstasy. As a result, barring some spontaneous attack of anhedonia, one’s affinity for these songs is unlikely to fade.
In addition to showing that one’s affection for music does not have to follow the mathematical up and down of a bell curve, Two Thousand… argues that our relationships with others need not be so oscillatory as well. On previous albums, Olausson sang repeatedly about falling in love and then subsequently falling out, all with ironic ambivalence. Two Thousand… marks a new maturity for Love Is All. Gone is the brash defiance characterized by snarky one-liners on love. Instead, a wiser and more introspective Olausson opens up on the album, at one point pleading with a past lover “I remember you calling me cruel / Well that was ages ago / Oh how I wish I could prove I have grown.” This album is proof.
Somewhat perplexing, the final track “Take Your Time” appears out of place on an otherwise stellar set of songs. Set to the tune of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”, the track is sonically beautiful but lacks the unique allure of the rest of the album. Why would Love Is All follow in the footsteps of numerous others – such as Aerosmith, Vitamin C, and Catch-22 – and use this gimmicky musical goldmine? A recent rerun of Pam and Jim’s wedding on The Office revealed the genius behind this choice. As “Canon in D” is frequently played at weddings, the last track seems to serve as a veiled tongue-in-cheek reference to marriage and the longevity of love (Let’s ignore statistics on this topic). On an album characterized by musical and lyrical maturity, the message becomes clear – true love, whether for a song or another person, never fades.