Wednesday 15 January 2014

Scandi-pop 2014 update

Some of the best music from the past few years has come from Scandinavia and that trend is set to continue well into 2014.  So whether you're looking for music from new artists or eagerly awaiting the return of some star names, here are some of the biggest Scandinavian acts to look out for in the coming months...

Tove Lo

Heartbreak is at the core of this Swedish singer-songwriter's material.  Yet where first single Habits was a more personal, intimate affair ("I've got to stay high all the time to keep you off my mind" she laments), latest single Out Of Mind sees the singer addressing her ex directly with the soaring "you're out of your mind" chorus.  This is intelligent pop with direct lyrics grounded in reality, epic production that scales impossible highs and a brilliant sense of melody.  Then there's this live acoustic version that proves she's got the voice to match the music.  This year, Lo deserves to be as big as her songs.


Another Swedish singer on the rise is XOV.  As with many hip-hop inspired artists, he grew up in a ghetto (Tensta, with the highest crime rates in Stockholm) yet found solace in music.  What sets him apart is his dark subject matter and mentoring from Swedish songwriting god Max Martin in LA last year.  

Lucifer is taken from his EP 'Boys Don't Cry' that's being released in two parts - a stripped down effort and a full studio offering.  The minimal, haunting production and hip-hop beats are paired with a pop sensibility, with XOV expressing regret over his past ("I used to kick it with Lucifer and he still lingers in the dark").  If this is what he's capable of with just a synth and a drum machine, just imagine what he'll do with a full studio at his disposal - he's currently recording his debut album due later this year.

Stine Bramsen

Remember Alphabeat and their phenomenal debut single Fascination? Well fear not, the Danish band have not split, but female singer Stine Bramsen has been working on some solo material.  Prototypical is the first release, so far only available as a 'live session' that's a little disappointing at first.  Yet what begins with a slow piano-led verse soon launches into a stomping chorus of hand-claps and Bramsen's unmistakeable voice.  When the final studio version hits it will probably be full of brooding synths and, if it's anything like Alphabeat's own work, will be worth looking forward to.


Ola Svensson is already a huge name in Sweden.  Since winning Swedish Idol in 2005 he's released three albums and had a number of hits in his native country, but hasn't quite found that same traction in the UK.  

That said, his most recent single, Tonight I'm Yours, proves why he's such a star.  Following a sweeping string-based intro, the song evolves into a synthy banger with plenty of euphoric appeal.  It's the kind of Europop that Swedish artists do so well, but could easily appeal across the globe.  Could 2014 be the year that Ola goes truly international?

Neneh Cherry

That's right, the Neneh Cherry returns this year with her first album in eighteen years, entitled 'Blank Project'.  However, anyone expecting another Buffalo Stance, 7 Seconds or Manchild may be disappointed.  It's clear from latest track Everything that this latest work will be far more experimental - seven minutes of sparse beats, odd vocal samples, and nary a soulful chorus in earshot.  Produced by Four-Tet, it's tribal, abstract and slightly menacing, but perhaps the album will include a pop hook somewhere?  There's a collaboration with Robyn, so...


Norwegian-British boy-girl duo Meow released their first track Radio Silence in summer last year.  Since then it's been a little quiet, until the very recent uploading of four new tracks to their Soundcloud page.  The pair are sure to be making a lot more noise this year.

And quite literally too.  Their electropop fizzes with noisy beats, heavy bass lines and dreamy vocals.  The best song of the batch, Betting On You, is closer to the pop end of the spectrum with its endearing chorus lyric "I'm laying down my money and I'm betting on you".  Skeletons, meanwhile, is a heavier techno track with elastic bass and thundering beats, whilst That's How I Won The War and Supersonic continue their frenetic electro pop sound.  Anyone who enjoyed Margaret Berger's Eurovision entry for Norway last year will find much to enjoy in Meow.

They're also ridiculously good-looking, which is always a bonus.


Another Swedish export, NONONO had their impossibly upbeat track Pumpin Blood used on a recent Samsung GALAXY phone advert.  You might not know their name but you've almost certainly heard their music.  And like that song, the band name is actually a positive - "It's so scary to say no, to close a door", said lead singer Stina Wäppling in a recent interview.  "I think it's more probable that you'll find something you really want to do when you give yourself space."

It's not all optimistic whistling ditties though.  Their other material includes the gloomy Like The Wind - all jerky beats, spectral guitars and Wäppling's characterful "wa ah ah" vocals - whilst Down Under is a folky acoustic effort.  Hopefully their forthcoming album will bring together these contrasting styles.

And for those interested, DJs The Chainsmokers have just released their remix of Pumpin Blood and it's available for free on their Soundcloud which is very nice of them.

Dream Lake

This Stockholm-based duo have an incredibly fitting name.  Having just released their self-titled debut EP, their music is characterised by liquid piano, frosty guitars and the heavenly vocals of Isabella Svärdstam.  Lead single In My Head pairs an exotic snake-like verse melody with a more expansive chorus.  It sets the tone for the EP at large, comprising dreamy and hypnotic pop songs that might be a little one level, but suggest this is just the suitably shimmering start for the duo.

Satellite Stories

If you prefer your Scandi-pop with a little less electro (but no less compelling), then Finnish indie-pop band Satellite Stories may be more your style.  Already hotly-tipped by the likes of NME and Q, their sound resembles Two Door Cinema Club and Bombay Bicycle Club but with a frosty Scandinavian touch.  Upbeat first single Campfire has already proven a success with bloggers and current single Lights Go Low is set to do the same.  Both songs are taken from the band's second album 'Pine Trails', released late last year - it's well worth a listen.


Ok ok, there might not be any actual new music from Robyn at the moment, but the Queen of Swedish pop will definitely be making an eagerly-anticipated return this year following her incredible 2010 album 'Body Talk'.  Whilst information is very much thin on the ground, we do at least know that she'll be collaborating with Norwegian dance superstars Röyksopp at the Øya Festival in Oslo in August and at Latitude Festival as part of their 'Do It Again' 2014 tour.  And that alone is cause for celebration.

In the meantime, let's all just remind ourselves why she's a pop genius.