It’s been nearly a decade since I last sat on my favorite rocky beach on Orcas Island. I worked as a day camp counselor at a YMCA camp there; a three hour ferry ride from Anacortes, Washington. I still remember the beach well, often daydreaming of the evenings my fellow counselors and I would stroll down to the waterfront and sit watching the sun drop from the sky, turning it shades of pink and purple, and listen to the waves lap the rocky shore. “Simple Chords (Intro)” by Irene opens with a similar sound, one that hits me with a pang of sad nostalgia—sad that I am no longer at that location, but happy to reminisce on it all these years later.
Irene’s music is like that. It’s timeless, era-less, creating—like so many other Swedish pop bands—a sound that would be as at home amidst a collection of ’60s pop as it would in a collection of more recent indiepop. The use of horns in “Stardust” and the low, deep vocals frontman Tobias “Bobby” Isaksson rivals the sound of Jens Lekman, heading off the fellow Swede stride to stride. Yet Bobby’s vocals also strike similarities to K Records’ and The Halo Benders’ Calvin Johnson, where Lekman has drawn more comparisons to Stephen Merritt.
Not only is Apple Bay somewhat of a timeless artifact, it also has the ability to hit the entire emotional spectrum while remaining quite relatable. “Only You” strikes a balance between sarcasm and the ridiculousness of love, with lyrics like You bite me off when I push my luck / And you pull me back in when you want us to fuck and I love you now / Like I loved you then / And I tell you again and again and again. This is not the only “love” related repetition, as “Only You” is followed by the repeated cliché I love you in “Accidentally Yours.”
Aside from the second song, “Stardust,” the high point is the second-to-last song, “Summer’s Gone.” Slightly slower and featuring the ever-present slap of a tambourine, “Summer’s Gone” is the perfect year-round autumn song. It is also one of the sadder songs on Apple Bay. In the middle, Bobby’s croon of Baby there would be no summer if it’s not for you drops out for a spoken line: Baby, wherever you are – I miss you. After the sadness of “Summer’s Gone,” the album leaves on a much more upbeat note in “The Game.”
More recent Swedish pop tends to be highly homogeneous. More often than not, these Swedish artists have dual male/female vocalists or a light to medium sized choir of friends, joyous melodies with hand-claps and tambourines, and a generally upbeat nature. That’s Swedish pop for you, and so that’s what Irene brings with their easily loved debut full-length, Apple Bay. Whatever time you are in, Irene will get your feet tapping and head swaying.
This review was originally published January 23, 2007 on the old version of FensePost.
Irene: Little Things (That Tear Us Apart) [mp3]
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Irene: Baby I Love Your Way [mp3]
[audio:090224_irene_-_baby_i_love_your_way.mp3|titles=Baby I Love Your Way|artists=Irene]
Labrador Records [CD, 2006]
1. Simple Chords [Intro]
3. To Be With You
4. Little Things (That Tear Us Apart)
6. Only You
7. Accidentally Yours
8. Cold Feet
9. Into The Sun
10. Baby I Love Your Way
11. Summer’s Gone
12. The Game