'Things We Do For Love' Review: The Sounds offer a charming, nostalgic take on '80s synthpop with a rocky sheen
After a gap of seven years, the Swedish new wave scenesters, The Sounds, are back with their sixth studio album. 'Things We Do For Love' will be their first major release in 2020 since their album 'Weekend' came out in 2013. After entering mainstream popularity in 2003 with their Grammy-nominated album, 'Living in America', the widely-lauded dance-worthy band has remained on the forefront of the Swedish alt-pop/rock scene, having released five studio albums and a string of successful singles like 'Tony the Beat', 'Painted By Numbers', 'No One Sleeps When I'm Awake' and 'Shake Shake Shake' among others.
The Sounds are also a regular fixture on the US tour scene - they've opened for acts like Foo Fighters, The Strokes, Angels & Airwaves, and Panic at the Disco in the past. Thanks to TV appearances and regular features in magazines, the band can even boast of a few notable celebrity fans, like Dave Grohl, Pharrell, and Quentin Tarantino.
The Sounds are fronted by the charismatic Maja Ivarsson, backed up by her bandmates Jesper Anderberg (guitar/keyboards), Felix Rodriguez (guitar), Johan Richter (bass) and Fredrik Blond (drums). Their latest offering is a blend of indie rock, synth-pop, and 80’s retro vibes, all distilled together to make for an exciting palette of sounds. “I can only speak for myself but I feel very proud of this one. I’m able to write songs from a different perspective this time, being a mom and all,” beams Maja Ivarsson, who has been busy taking care of her 5-year-old son.
"We had a great time writing this one! No pressure, just having fun,” Ivarsson added. “It’s always been about being in the moment and trying to catch a good melody, chord progression, or lyrics when it comes to you,” she revealed about the writing process of this new album.
“It’s like a 1000 pounds of dynamite exploded in my heart tonight”, croons Maja, as the title track 'Things We Do For Love' kicks off. It's a powerful opener with pulsating guitar and keyboard lines, complemented by a strong rhythm section. The groovy bass perfectly supports Anderberg and Rodriguez’s melodic parts and gives this song a catchy sense of urgency, propelled by Maja’s voice.
With a quick keyboard lick, the band jumps straight into 'Safe And Sound', with the energy from the first track seemingly carried into this song. Richter's moody bass interweaved with keyboard etudes give this track an interesting blend of Swedish pop and '80s retro vibes thanks to Anderberg’s synthesizer bits.
The Sounds then mellows down the tempo just a tad with 'Changes'. Featuring a laidback groove, this track talks about taking back control, letting go of what used to be and ultimately acknowledging one’s personal evolution. “It’s been quite some time since we last released an album and a lot of great things have happened in between,” says Maja and this song is testimony to that.
Sweeping synthesizer tones and a pulsating rhythm section introduce 'Bonnie & Clyde', the fourth track on the album. With a nostalgic vibe that’s reminiscent of disco-era tracks, 'Bonnie and Clyde' sees Maja trading call-and-response verses with a male voice. A lull in the song highlights Maja’s soft, mellow delivery before jumping right back into its energetic march. The Sounds have managed to pull off a retro dance floor vibe with this song, much like Swedish stalwarts ABBA and their '80s counterparts Boney M.
A driving synth bassline and a four-by-four rhythm introduces us to the next song, 'Hollow'. The band’s '80s influences are most obvious in this song, featuring measured beats and big synthesizer patches. One might be forgiven for thinking this is a song by ABBA, given the similarities with the soaring melodies, the spoken interlude, and keyboard-heavy instrumentation.
'Hollow' also features a great chorus which is a real earworm, and will have listeners humming along to Maja’s refrain, “I will leave you hollow.”
'Fingertips' marks a distinct departure from the album’s first five numbers. Maja digs deep and presents an almost baritone delivery with her impressive voice. The funky synth accompaniment also allows the rhythm section to breathe a lot more, making for a nice, loose change of pace. With more musical breaks letting Maja’s vocals delve into an almost conversational realm, this intriguing track keeps the listener engaged and head-bobbing.
'Dreaming of you' sees the band going back to more traditional synth-pop sensibilities, with the ringing guitar chords and throbbing rhythm section perfectly accentuating the dreamy keyboard work. There’s ample space for Maja to lean into the verses before the big, punctuated choruses and although seemingly straightforward, the song packs a lot of energy.
A big distorted line introduces 'Dim The Lights'. Unlike the rest of the album, this track has the band leaning towards a rockier sound. The rhythm section stays in the pocket, while synth breaks and compelling vocals drive this rock 'n' roll ditty forward. The acoustic drums are also heavily emphasized in the mix, with Blond bringing out the big drum rolls and fills. As always, Maja brings some artful character to the song with her powerful refrain “Dim the lights.”
In keeping with the rock theme, 'Stay Free' kicks in with a belting guitar riff and some intense drumming. The energy on this track compensates for its rather short length but it still packs a powerful, heavy punch. True to its name, 'Stay Free' shatters the synth-pop mold, and emerges as a pop-punk rocker through and through.
The penultimate track 'Home' takes the pace down a notch, being equal parts synth-pop & acoustic singer-songwriter fodder. The song gathers memories of a journey that eventually culminates in coming back home, and Maja stays in a mellow mood throughout this uplifting yet melancholy number. 'Home' is a song that could work very well in an all-acoustic arrangement, if the band were to play this song during a stripped-down live set.
The final track and longest on the album, 'Miami' pretty much encapsulates the retro synth-pop sound. We get to hear some throbbing synth bass, spacey guitar arpeggios, delayed electronic snare drums, and some moody, sing-along vocals. The laidback tempo once again provides a great sonic contrast to the pulsing synth bass, while Maja's floating vocal accompaniment provides depth and texture to this track.
All in all, 'Things We Do For Love' marks a great nostalgic return for The Sounds. Besides their patented '80s synth-pop aesthetic, they also throw in some heady rock and charming vocals, making for a package of foot-tapping music that will keep the audience wanting more.