Molly Nilsson – Twenty Twenty: “20/20 pop vision”
Molly Nilsson’s music is the apotheosis of a kind of fiercely independent, DIY, internet-friendly, ‘80s-tinged synth-pop. With her own label (Dark Skies Association), a scant social media presence and rejection of Spotify, and a handful of sketchy music vids and elevated karaoke-style performances, she’s managed to carve out – with auteur-like precision – a sonic space that’s entirely her own. On Twenty Twenty, her 8th album, she drifts around that space, exploring the personal and the political, the joyous and the despondent.
Way back in July, ‘Serious Flowers’ appeared, representing, not as a few properly mean YouTube commenters would have it, a “wtf moment”, but a loosening-up. Her vocals are a bit off, but speak, refreshingly, to a certain insouciance, like an emotionally-charged shower sing-song. Another single, ‘Slice of Lemon’, emerges, after the customary reverse cymbal fade-in, as…zesty, switched on. It tackles climate change but is full of breezy, wavering melodies. Eat that. ‘Gun Control’ on the other hand is more typical and a bit less oblique, with a lo-fi opening which gives way to limpid chords that help to really drive things home. A brief let-up comes halfway through in the shape of ‘Intermezzo: My Mental Motorcycle’: fairly skippable but it has a decently funky bass line.
Elsewhere, ‘I’m Your Fan’ is cloaked in an AM radio filter and predicated on naff synths; previous Nilsson songs have been made on one that cost 25 euros on eBay, whose slogan, incidentally, is “Find what makes you, you.” Well, those uncanny, second-hand sonics make Molly Nilsson, Molly Nilsson, and they work. ‘Days of Dust’ ramps up the cheese with some naff guitar – not to great effect, initially. But offset against the “pre-apocalypse” joy of opener ‘Every Night is New’, her voice emerges defiant – she’s ready to “get back up and run right into the fire”.
Closer (and highlight, along with ‘Out of the Blue’) ‘Blinded by the Night’… oof. Definitely the sort of thing to soundtrack a city perambulation on a wintry night, the kind of thing you might hear added on top of the ending of a film like ‘Le Père Noël a les Yeux Bleus’. Like that Mac DeMarco tune put to an achronological farrago of scenes from ‘Masculin Féminin’, but a bit less obvious.
‘Twenty Twenty’ doesn’t have the ‘cool as’, slightly dour tumblr vibe of her work from a few years ago (or indeed that last link) but there’s a certain affinity with last year’s Imaginations. The constraints under which Nilsson operates do mean her songs can sound homogeneous. But the finalist logic that’s all too easy to reach for (and usually unhelpful to boot) which insists sinuously, “where’s the progression?”, needs to be binned, or at least set aside here, because ‘more of the same’ shouldn’t be cause for eye-rolling when it comes to Molly Nilsson and this set of 10 songs, with their 20/20 pop vision.