Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Kiddo | Tove Styrke

The Scandinavian country of Sweden is commonly known for very few things, but I would bet a fine chunk of change that ready-to-assemble furniture retailers and quality pop music are the area's most popular exports. New Swedish acts such as Avicii, Elliphant, Icona Pop, Robyn, and most recently, Tove Lo have all tasted fame after breakthroughs outside of their homeland's reaches. She may have placed third on Swedish Idol and landed a platinum debut album in her native country in 2010, but 22-year-old Tove Styrke never experienced the same big break that her peers received. Her sophomore attempt, Kiddo, has been five years in the making, complete with a reinvention of her image and sound, and although it may not send her to the top of airplay charts, it should direct Styrke straight to headlining slots on indie blogs across the web.

Her eponymous debut album was a bit easier to digest, with more pep in its dance-powered step. Kiddo, on the other hand, is an elaborate, indie-leaning affair that throws Styrke towards the territory of fellow Swede Lykke Li. (Ironically, Li wrote Styrke's debut single, which was cloaked with a mainstream pop coating.) Styrke's voice, while not extraordinary, is idiosyncratic enough to give her distinction, but it is the attention to instrumental intricacies that truly sets the record apart from others lost in the indie-pop haze. The Beyoncé-referencing "Snaren," an AlunaGeorge-meets-Lykke Li track layered with drum and synth lines, clusters of altered ab-libs, and flying bullet sound effects, perfectly exemplifies why her immersive, fine-tuned productions should not be listened to without a pair of quality headphones.

Once again, her voice won't make a jaw drop, but it does have the ability to take on many different personas. On "Borderline," she spits out, "I'm borderline happy and I'm borderline sad / I'm borderline good and I'm borderline bad," with a nasal-tinged sneer over an entrancing backdrop. For tracks like "Ego" (which is an alluring slice of indie-pop heaven, by the way) and "Who's Got News," a paper-thin upper register is put into play. Then there are her most animated tracks, "Number One" and "Even If I'm Loud It Doesn't Mean I'm Talking to You," on which she tramples with youthful half-spoken, half-sung deliveries. The latter of those two runs along the strange border of The Ting Tings and Icona Pop, especially thanks to Styrke's punchy vocal play.

She channels an endless list of influences, but she does so with enough precision to craft a unique identity. Lyrically, though, she can be compared to no other. She favors quirky phrases with necessary touches of feminist and pro-pop music messages: "I got my half ass rhymes to set me free / That's why you never ever can get to me," "Hijack the idea of a girl that obeys,and the all-important "Your tears don't shake my world like Britney Spears / She's fierce." (The best part about that last line is that it is wholehearted, without the intended smirk of most novelty lyrics. The same could be said about her use of the phrases "When did you decide to get shady?" and "You better scooch for a queen bee.")

All Kill Bill references placed aside, the title Kiddo may imply Styrke is a fresh-faced lass, when in actuality, she possesses a level of maturity that is not as hyperreal as Lorde's, yet not as underdeveloped as Charli XCX's. (If anything, her lyrics are on an eccentric middle ground between the works of those two ladies.) With this album, she has set herself up with all she needs to pave her way to viral success: superb production, an identifiable voice, and a decent balance between striking messages and pop-centric lyrics. Furthermore, any artist that praises Britney Spears and samples Beyoncé on one album is already on the path to becoming a legend in my book.

Kiddo is available now digitally through RCA Records.

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