Until this point, Loney Dear’s music has been pleasantly simple—not-too-fussy ballads layered with strings for extra depth. All the while, however, Emil Svanangen apparently yearned to make grandiose, ornate compositions. After 2009’s Dear John, Svanangen toured with orchestras in his native Sweden, rewriting parts of his catalog with a symphonic treatment. New material also went full-tilt into the chamber-pop realm, resulting in the appropriately titled Hall Music. With liner notes by pop-composer-of-the-moment Nico Muhly (who recently collaborated with Jónsi of Sigur Rós), the record is meant to be a complex, artistically important statement.
Those ambitious expectations aren’t fully met, though. Svanangen pulls from an oversized grab-bag of instrumentation, employing bells, piano, xylophones, vibraphones, marimbas, synths, horns, harp, and so on. It’s an impressive production, but it seems unnecessary for the folky songwriting it’s tacked onto. The flourishes come across as inorganic and unsubtle, rather than integral elements of the songs. They do make for occasions of majestic drama (“My Heart”) and delicate sadness (“Name,” with its barren organ-keyboard interplay), all packed within a brisk half-hour running time. But what’s between feels like filler, which is particularly tiresome when sung in shrill falsetto (“Young Hearts”). With Hall Music, Svanangen has proven he can compose big arrangements, but he might not write big music.