Loney Dear mastermind, Emil Svanangen, does not want his voice to overwhelm you, offend you, or make you uneasy in any way. His vocals are practically padding, meant to cushion any of the harsh edges of his multi-layered brand of synth-pop. Listening to his latest, Dear John, one gets the feeling Loney Dear could probably record his vocals with a sleeping baby in his arms if he were so inclined. This approach to singing would not be so noteworthy were it not belied by his seemingly antithetical approach to instrumental arrangement. Dear John is full of songs that are almost obsessively packed with sound. It is as though Loney Dear made it a mission to fit every synthesizer setting available into this album.
The effect of this dichotomy is initially quite unsettling, especially considering that the beginning of Dear John is quite frenetically paced. “Airport Surroundings,” with it’s speeding drums and dramatic minor key synths, is obviously designed to immediately capture the listener’s attention, but Svanangen’s sings as though he has little desire to be heard. A similar method is employed on the second track, “Everything Turns To You.” Even as Loney Dear displays that his voice has greater range than you may have suspected, the synthesized orchestral strikes command the listener’s attention with much greater ease than the effete vocals. It’s almost like watching a hectic car chase with Jeremy Davies at the wheel.
The rush of Dear John’s first two tracks is a bizarre precursor to the sweet-natured melancholy that follows. This is not to suggest that the album suffers for the lack of frenzied synth-pop beyond that point, but “Airport Surroundings” and “Everything Turns To You” will likely give you the wrong idea about Dear John’s direction in the remainder. Appropriately, the song following begins with the line, “I was only going out to catch my air,” as if to mark the moment of the album at which Loney Dear relaxes the pace, which is a relief. It’s doubtful that Loney Dear’s voice could keep up with the tempo established at the album’s outset, and likely that listeners would find that approach tiresome.
In fact, Dear John’s finest moments arrive when Svanangen accepts the fact that there is little to no danger in his voice. Of course, no one would want to describe their singing as docile or glum, but down-tempo weariness simply suits Loney Dear, as songs like “I Was Lost” make plain. Dear John has any number of songs that would make fantastic singles, but the album suffers as a whole for Svanangen’s countless attempts to overdress his music in melodramatic synths and effects. “In A Silent Sea” simply does not need the vocoder that irritatingly trails the melody, but Svanangen’s desire to establish Dear John’s modernity likely drove him to include the effect. Conversely, “Summers’” anthemic highs benefit from a more patient approach to arrangement. If Loney Dear can tone down his impetuousness and let his melodies breathe a little, he might fully realize the potential that is obvious throughout Dear John.