The Arctic Wife – “Constancia” – Denmark
It’s hard to pigeonhole The Arctic Wife into one genre. This Danish duo touches on a wide array of influences in “Constancia,” and this amalgam of styles makes for a rollicking, piano-driven journey of creative muscle flexing. The highlight is in lead singer Maja’s vocal performance — holy cow, does she have some pipes. Her spirited, theatrical delivery is a constant delight, and it absolutely SOARS when the chorus peaks. While the band has only officially released this one song, I’m okay waiting for more if they’re all this thrilling.
Caotico – “Brains Out” – Sweden
Don’t let the hilariously NSFW chorus fool you – “Brains Out” is anything but a joke of a song. Caotico are a group of pop-minded electro-rockers who write indelibly catchy tunes (see “Into the Beat” for further evidence). In this track, the band recruits fellow Swede Tove Styrke for vocal support, and she playfully trades some sexually charged banter with cool-as-hell lead singer Joel Dunkels. While the lyrics recount a night of steamy summer passion, the backing track ain’t no classic baby-makin’ tune. Instead, it’s all chattering guitar trills, see-sawing synths, and tightly wound beats and claps. That is to say, it’s perfect.
Colleagues – “Parents’ House” – Sweden
I’m really not sure how to write about this song because A) I can’t do it justice and B) I’d rather spend every remaining second of my life listening to it on repeat. “Parents’ House” doesn’t just hit my sweet spots — it reinvents them, setting new standards for both sound and sentiment. Swedish five-piece Colleagues quietly released this stunning debut track back in the fall of ’12, and I was in love at the first of its playful opening squeals. It sounds like a fully realized version of Julian Casablancas’ vision in “11th Dimension” — upbeat, engaging electropop with a sentimental heart. Every part of the song — the longing, affable vocals; the unbridled joy of the free-wheeling keyboards; the breezy, clattering percussion — bristles with an exuberant energy, a feeling of being young and living a consequences-be-damned life. It’s a tender ode to carefree, youthful flings, and it’s the best thing you’ll hear for a long, long time.
Fender Heist – “Chino” – Norway
Want to show your friends how hip you are? Go like the Fender Heist Facebook page. It only has a couple hundred fans right now, but if they keep putting out songs like “Chino,” that number will surely blow up (and you’ll be ahead of the game!). This is one heckuva fun track, with stadium-ready drums, devil-may-care lyrics, and a “WOO-OO-OO-OO”-heavy chorus that’s closed out by a unique guitar breakdown.
Erik Hassle – “Pathetic” – Sweden
“Pathetic,” from the recent Somebody’s Party EP by Swedish pop singer Erik Hassle, is rife with the signature touches of its producer, SOHN. Minimalist, pinwheeling snaps and pops form the backbone beat of the brooding track, and Hassle’s quavering, passionate falsetto packs on a hefty dollop of soul. It’s excellent R&B for the age of Lorde, where sparsity is a musical tool in and of itself.
Highasakite – “Son of a Bitch” – Norway
“Son of a Bitch” is an incredibly dense song, noisy in every beat. From the hollow thump of the opening drums to the bass-driven, ascending-to-the-heavens chorus, Norwegian sextet Highasakite have meticulously pieced together an indie pop dime that’s exciting and deceptively cheerful. Lead singer Ingrid’s vocals are calm and collected, and her playfully chanted delivery lightens the load of the anguish-riddle lyrics.
I Break Horses – “Faith” – Sweden
I Break Horses’ debut album Hearts was characterized by their ability to build tension beyond the expected breaking point, only to release it in a delayed conflagration of jagged musical fury. With “Faith,” there is no build-up — the entire song is an urgent, pummeling tour-de-force of bone-chilling electronic instrumentation.
LCTRISC – “Sunbird” – Sweden
“Sunbird” has been around for a while now, but that powerful opening verse and thrumming synth never cease to stun me. Swedish pop duo LCTRISC have crafted a clean, brightly lit pop track with near-robotic vocals and crisp, rhythmic instrumentals. There’s not much deviation from the constant “thum thum thum” of the keyboard, but it’s pleasing in its persistent force. A decelerating melody kicks in at the three minute mark, and it seems like things are winding down. But the main tune gets a second wind, coming back with extra oomph to close out the track.
Marlene ∞ – “Stay Awake” – Sweden
Marlene ∞ has two original tracks and one collaboration to her name, but that’s enough for me to say that she’ll be the Next Big Thing in Swedish pop. In “Stay Awake,” a lightly tapped piano and softly buzzed synth coalesce over fast-paced hip-hop beats, and that’s about it for instruments — but that doesn’t matter, because Marlene’s vocals are the real star. She holds nothing back, showing some serious range and masterful R&B styling that puts most of her contemporaries to shame.
MØ – “Glass” – Denmark
Get used to the name MØ (pronounced something like “meh-oo”), because she’s ready to make it big. “Glass” is a genre-bending electropop riot, and it’s damn near impossible to play it just once. Opening with descending Christmas carol-like synths, MØ quickly injects one of her signature yelps to help usher in the heavy, pulsing beat that carries the song. A polished, arpeggiated synth cuts in to the mix, and from then on the song is a tightly controlled collage of stuttering drums, vocals that fluctuate between shout and croon, and other musical quirks that meld to form something special.
Shadow Shadow – “Riviera” – Sweden
Shadow Shadow come from the Swedish nest of inexhaustible creative talent, and they make the kind of epic synth pop that’s meant to soundtrack your grandest dreams. “Riviera” is a masterful exercise in how to do no wrong. The beautifully laced male female dueling vocals are enough to carry you away, and warmly shivering synths create a perfectly alluring backdrop. To bridge the gaps between the vocal melody, a keyboard cuts a neon path over galloping, booming drum rolls, upping the song’s grandeur by another degree.
Frida Sundemo – “Million Years” – Sweden
Another day, another Swedish pop artist with the songwriting and pipes to take the music world by storm. The comparison of Scandinavian songstress Frida Sundemo to Robyn or Lykke Li is inevitable, but that means she’s doing things the right way. “A Million Years” could be the new fix for fans of anthemic, operatic pop with vocals that effortlessly match a song’s sweeping expanse.
Suvi – “Bleeding for Your Love” – Sweden
The word “epic” has lost a lot of its power thanks to rampant overuse, but it’s still a great descriptor for a select few things — this Suvi track included. “Bleeding for Your Love” is epic by all accounts. From start to finish, she paints a grand musical landscape, huge in every way. An echoing bird-call synth soars over the opening rattles and chimes, lending itself to a slowly building wall of panoramic sound. These opening bits herald the main show, a sweeping wave of raw musical power that alternates between towering horns and booming bass drum. Suvi’s voice lofts over all, a triumphant performance that even manages to outshine the instrumental bombast.
Vanbot – “When My Heart Breaks” – Sweden
Ester Ideskog, AKA Vanbot, is yet another product of the Swedish musical machine, and with her recent releases she looks like a serious contender for the throne of Robyn. “When My Heart Breaks” starts as a vocals-first performance, but the accompanying synths flutter with tension, building to an inevitable release. When this musical dam finally bursts, a powerful dance-ready ballad sweeps forth, carrying the song to a thrilling finish.