Loney, Dear Loney, Noir Sub Pop

First thing's first: This album is not by Lonely, Dear. It's LONEY, Dear. Getting the name wrong is easy, and not just because those letters play tricks on the eyes. Lush and expansive but unbendingly timid, Loney, Noir sounds like the vivid bedroom fantasies of a socially inept shut-in. Emil Svanangen seems like the kind of guy who, upon greeting a stranger, mumbles and stares at the floor during the handshake, wishing that instead of introducing himself with casual conversation, he could hand over a CD and say, "Just listen."

Loney, Dear Loney, Noir Sub Pop

First thing's first: This album is not by Lonely, Dear. It's LONEY, Dear. Getting the name wrong is easy, and not just because those letters play tricks on the eyes. Lush and expansive but unbendingly timid, Loney, Noir sounds like the vivid bedroom fantasies of a socially inept shut-in. Emil Svanangen seems like the kind of guy who, upon greeting a stranger, mumbles and stares at the floor during the handshake, wishing that instead of introducing himself with casual conversation, he could hand over a CD and say, "Just listen."

Then again, maybe the guy's a social butterfly. But he boasts none of the ladykiller charisma of fellow Swedish pop auteur Jens Lekman, and with music that recalls the highly orchestrated twee of Belle and Sebastian, Sufjan Stevens and Ben Gibbard's bands, it's easier to think of him as a soft-spoken recluse, so we shall.

All that time home alone allows for painstakingly perfect arrangements to sound as if they flowed from the depths of Svanangen's lungs along with his wispy vocals. Horns, organs and glockenspiel clothe the simple folk songs in soft, rich textures. Layers of background vocals add to the tapestry wthout getting in the way of Svanangen's high-pitched voice, always the center of attention. He's working in a limited range, but he uses every corner of the small palette, sliding between smooth, calm storytelling, strained emoting and a falsetto that's still pretty mellow but sounds wild in context.

Each song carries its weight, with just enough individual quirks to avoid blending together. Listen enough times and each song will rise to the top at some point, but "I Am John" will likely grab you first. Its sense of urgency and glorious buildup don't get in the way of the fundamentally relaxed nature of the album as a whole, providing a little action in a set of songs that plays out like a quirky indie flick. Loney, Noir won't receive any awards for originality, but it's awfully beautiful and comfortably cozy, the kind of music that goes great by the fireplace in the midst of the cold Swedish winter. Or, you know, locked in the bedroom.

Grade: A- Download: "I Am John" Web: loneydear.com