When discussing Robyn, one of Sweden’s catchiest exports, I feel compelled to acknowledge the unusual position she is in. Sweden continues to give us some of the most interesting and appealing music, especially in the pop world. The Knife, Lykke Li, and Miike Snow are just a few of the notable acts, and the list keeps going. Therefore her origins give her some street cred, and her fairly low profile in North America makes her something of a hip, niche artist. That under-the-radar (stateside) appeal has probably made many critics and listeners give her a shot when they normally wouldn’t be so receptive to a pop act. (I can’t imagine many blogs and non-glossy outlets giving as much space to Christina Aguilera, for example.) On the other hand, she’s making music as catchy as today’s chart toppers, and most of what she’s producing is much more interesting. She deserves a devoted fan base, and if she’s not going to get it through radio, then her followers might as well be as vocal as possible.
This breakdown only matters when you put on one of her albums—in this case Body Talk Pt. 1, her latest release. What you hear doesn’t blow your mind or make you re-evaluate the definition of music as you once knew it. Instead, it makes you wonder why so much accessible music isn’t pieced together with the same kind of care. Robyn cheekily plants her flag when her muffled voice opens the album repeating, “My drinking is killing me.”As a Mr. Oizo-ready beat builds, she lists the many items killing her: her boyfriend, her talking, her mother, and on and on. Finally, she invokes the song title and insists, “Don’t fucking tell me what to do.” She’s got Alanis Morissette’s list-making skills but none of the self-importance in this moment. The song pokes at a serious inner madness but doesn’t attempt to do more than tease the surface and prep you for the next eight tracks.
Although she offers up a single-ready earworms from the same family as “Cobrastyle” and “Konichiwa Bitches” in the new track “Fembots”, the album’s triumphs are the subtler. “None of Dem”, which partners her with RÃ¶yksopp, suggests that last year’s fantastic collaboration “The Girl and the Robot” on the duo’s LP was just the beginning of an exciting partnership. The song begins with a dragging Middle Eastern rhythm that might’ve fit on Britney Spears’ In the Zone, but in the last third of the track, RÃ¶yksopp leaves its mark with an upbeat, spacey departure. It’s a slow groove for the electro-pop crowd.
“Cry When You Get Older” and “Dancing On My Own” have the most heart of any dance tracks this side of LCD Soundsystem. Both tracks will keep you dancing, but Robyn’s delicate voice cuts through the samples and manufactured rhythms to remind you that the woman behind the playful persona cares about the boy and about making sense of life as she ages. Don’t call her a buzzkill, however. Robyn is equal parts dance artist and equal parts storyteller, even if her story is sometimes so silly you don’t know what’s going on.
If you doubt that she is creating a personal narrative beyond her own quirky image, look no further than the last half of the album. “Dancehall Queen”, a collaboration with Diplo, is what you’d expect to hear: a smooth beat and an international sound, but nothing you’ll keep on repeat. It seems like a match made in heaven, but ultimately it’s fairly safe. Yet, the album closer is a traditional Swedish song, “Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa”. In English that means, “I Know a Lovely Rose”. Robyn softly whispers over soft xylophone chimes. Even if you don’t know what she’s singing—and beyond the title I don’t—you’re left with an intimate, vulnerable track that is the complete opposite of the bold woman who opens the album. The album isn’t about Robyn’s narrative arc as it is about her willingness to shed slowly layers until we’re left with nothing but her voice between us.
Robyn plans to release two more installments in the Body Talk series this year. This album clocks in at 30 minutes, which is too short for such an exciting artist. But knowing that two more volumes will be added to this one gives me hope for several reasons. First, if she’s willing to divide the albums into these brief sections, then she creating a project that’s more exciting than a simple flood of releases á la Ryan Adams. And more importantly, for the sake of delayed gratification, she leaves us wanting more with one release but intends to satiate our excitement down the road. North Americans didn’t get her last album for three full years, so the more Robyn, the better, as far as this reviewer’s concerned.