Free and legal MP3: The Sweet Serenades (both anthemic and understated)

One of the things I love most here is the ongoing tension on display between this song’s anthemic inclinations and front man Martin Nordvall’s palpable restraint in presentation.

“Out of Time” – The Sweet Serenades

Opening with a nostalgic electronic flourish, “Out of Time” pulses into an appealing synth rocker with a driving backbeat and a seductive sense of understated drama. In fact one of the things I love most here is the ongoing tension on display between this song’s anthemic inclinations and front man Martin Nordvall’s palpable restraint in presentation. The chorus, first heard at 0:31, has all the makings of an emotive earworm, but listen to how delicately Nordvall uses his baritone here—he’s all but whispering. He’s also setting you up: when the chorus returns (1:24), we get the same melody, but Nordvall now sings it an octave higher. See for yourself what a difference this makes. With that staccato bass line, revolving synthesizer riff, and now-majestic chorus, I’m getting a strong scent of the New Romantic movement here, which sounds oddly refreshing in 2020.

At the same time: this no mere ’80s retread. The Sweet Serenades have been at it since 2002, for many years as a duo; by now, Nordvall brings his own gravitas to the table. I’m always amused—and sometimes even entertained—by young musicians sporting some sort of throwback ’70s or ’80s look and sound. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that sort of homage; all musicians worth their salt are inspired by sounds that came before them. But I feel much more convinced when someone with an ear for a bygone time proceeds to sit with it, live with it, develop it. Musicians who learn to let their influences breathe in new ways often end up having the most, themselves, to say.

Nordvall hails from the village of Timrå, some four hours north of Stockholm. “Out of Time” is a track from the band’s forthcoming album, City Lights, which was recorded last year in Stockholm and due out in March. The Sweet Serenades were featured once before on Fingertips, in May 2009; the band was a duo back then.

Free and legal MP3: Jupe Jupe (irresistible neo-New Romantic camp)

Treading that oh-so-fine line between camp and earnestness, “Add As Friend” is a melodramatic, irresistible slice of neo-New Romantic synth pop, complete with a crooning baritone, goofy synthesizer sounds, and an anthemic dance-floor melody.

Jupe Jupe

“Add As Friend” – Jupe Jupe

Treading that oh-so-fine line between camp and earnestness, “Add As Friend” is a melodramatic, irresistible slice of neo-New Romantic synth pop, complete with a crooning baritone, goofy synthesizer sounds, and an anthemic dance-floor melody. We know we’re in good hands when the intro builds rapidly from a bell-like synthesizer line through a pulsating (and smile-inducing) middle section into full-fledged melodic glory by 0:28—a simple, beautifully crafted instrumental theme that serves as the ongoing heart of the song. I find a song with a wordless hook difficult to get out of my head.

But make no mistake about the camp here. One giveaway is the overtly humorous synthesizer lines which pop up throughout the song—most noticeably at 0:22, 1:26. 2:44, and 3:12, if you’re keeping score at home. At its heart, camp is a joke—even if, often, a serious joke—so humor is always near the surface. Another is the song’s Erasure-esque vibe, and Erasure was nothing if not the camp champion of the New Romantic movement. But as Erasure themselves proved, a camp act can still create really good music. Jupe Jupe has hereby joined the club.

A foursome from Seattle, Jupe Jupe self-released their debut album, Invaders, this week. That’s where you’ll find “Add As Friend.”