All music, or at least all pop, aims for a kind of catharsis. What’s the point of art, after all, if it doesn’t invoke some kind of response, doesn’t make you feel something? And, if it’s going to make you feel something, why shouldn’t that something be big and profound? While Icona Pop isn’t the only act carrying this train of thought to its most extreme conclusion, it’s the only group doing it with this much unadulterated anger and raw joy. In their first full-length LP, This Is… Icona Pop, the Swedish duo of Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo are building on several years’ worth of anticipation, and there are times when they seem too nervous to deliver. Rather than fall to that trepidation, they produce buzzed-up dance anthems that barrel down like a freight train.
Let’s usher the elephant out of the room: I love “I Love It”. You love “I Love It”. We’ve played “I Love It” while taking a shower. We’ve played it while applying copious amounts of eyeliner at 9:00 p.m. and telling ourselves we look great (men — gay and straight — you’ve certainly done whatever the male equivalent of that is). We’ve listened to it both sober and drunk, and made note of its different merits in both scenarios. We’ve put it on playlists and blasted it in the car, and when it finally starts to wear out its welcome, we give in to the part of us that wants to hear it again. And again. As far as pop anthems go, it’s nearly flawless.
Inevitably, not every track on the duo’s first full-length LP can live up to that hype; many don’t. Not that this is a bad thing — there just isn’t enough room on the airwaves for 11 different smash-hit iterations of “I Love It”. Blissed-out EDM tunes like “We Got The World” serve their purpose perfectly, but their lyrics are simplistic (“They say you’re a freak when we’re having fun/ Say we must be high when we’re spreading love/ But we’re just living life and we never stop/ We got the world”) and they lack the kind of jarring clout that the duo has established for itself. “Just Another Night” is impressive for the force of emotion packed into the vocals — the humans behind the dance-pop machine — and while the song is kind of a downer, as power ballads go, Icona Pop could do worse: “Steppin’ on the cracks in the pavement, just another night of being wasted,” Hjelt and Jawo sing. Subtlety has never been their thing. “Girlfriend” is actually pretty strong, but after the refrain of “All I need in this life of sin is me and my girlfriend,” the song feels like it’s lacking some kind of breakdown. This will, of course, be remedied in the dubstep remix, but some of us don’t want to wait that long.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that while This Is… showcases a few worthy songs outside of the song, there’s also a fair amount of filler, tracks largely interchangeable with one another even after a few listens. Where is Charli XCX, exactly? Can she become a permanent member? Can she help them record another smash? Maybe it’s too much to expect lightning to strike twice. The main problem is that the joyful apocalypse promised on “I Love It” is almost nowhere to be found on the rest of the album — no cars crashing into bridges, no shit getting thrown down the stairs. We’ve come to welcome, celebrate, even expect these things. This is, we’ve been led to believe, who these women are: reckless and destructive, but in the most fun, danceable way possible. In the end, you love this album. Of course you do. But not as much as you could have, and when you have this much potential and youthful energy on your hands, that sin is almost unforgivable.
Essential Tracks: “I Love It”, “We Got The World”, and “Just Another Night”