If there’s one thing Sweden knows how to do, as every review of recent Swedish pop music will tell you, it’s make infectious synth pop. From Robyn and Lykke Li to Niki And The Dove and The Knife, there is no shortage of pop acts from the Scandinavian country. Stockholm’s Museum Of Bellas Artes are now all set to join the party with their long-awaited debut album Pieces. However, unlike some of their compatriots, this trio are far more complex than they appear on the surface.
From the very off, Pieces is an unnervingly dark record, with a noticeable absence of the catchier, poppy elements that are often a feature of the music from Museum Of Bellas Artes’ homeland. In fact, the band’s earliest singles suggested they would be going down that very same route, but unlike early cuts such as Days Ahead and Who Do You Love, Pieces is for the most part a sombre and melodramatic experience.
The band set out their stall from the very first track, with opener Fantasia providing a wondrous beginning to the record. Singer Alice Luther sounds almost like she’s doing her best Florence Welch impression with her weeping vocal, which gives the song a gothic tinge over twinkling, glockenspiel-like keyboards and bounding bass. It’s a strange, eerie way to kick things off, but it clearly distances the band from their earlier work.
It’s followed by Twine, which continues the dramatic ambience, with another creepy vocal from Luther. This time, the song’s repetitive crunching synth line is more in keeping with some of the band’s previous releases and makes the rather grating vocal slightly more bearable. Maze Of Shell also falls foul to the vocal, with its minimalist, atmospheric production unfortunately suffering as a result.
Despite the unconvincing start, Museum Of Bellas Artes’ debut does provide some moments of genuine intrigue and excitement. Swan Boats sees Luther sing with far more assurance, complementing the song’s lethargic beat and engaging guitar hook, while the throbbing synths and swooning chorus of Abyss makes it another standout. Certainly, when the band do get it right it’s easy to see what all the fuss was about.
Bear Clubs also manages to hit its mark, with the sort of infectious, Balearic synths that helped Luther and childhood friends Joanna Herskovits and Leonard Öhman make their name when they first burst onto the scene four years ago. The song’s intricate guitar riffs and disco beats demonstrate the trio’s pop tendencies. Yet Pieces is not an album content with mere reversion to type.
Nothing makes this clearer than the haunting Come What May, which further captures the band’s dark vision. The sparse instrumentation makes way for Luther’s yelping vocals, although her voice is not a particularly pleasant listen and just makes the skip button look all the more inviting. It’s a shame, because the production is quite intoxicating.
Elsewhere, Relapse is a jagged, clattering example of synth pop, which ultimately sounds forced when compared to the effortless closer Glass. The two couldn’t be any more different, with the latter proof that sometimes less is more, as the warm, uplifting synths finish the record on a high note. Luther’s vocal is also kept to a minimum, allowing the band to showcase some grooving guitar riffs before the song slowly fades out.
Caveats aside, with Pieces, ultimately Museum Of Bellas Artes have undoubtedly done something different – which is something to be commended, considering how well-worn the genre is.