Loney, Dear, Loney, Noir, and live at Union Hall, Brooklyn, 3.12.07
By Charlotte Deaver
When a single-artist, multi-instrumentalist tours, suddenly a "band," he (or she) doesn't always get his act together, literally, as well as he does in the studio. So I didn't expect much from Loney, Dear's live performance. But my goodness, they were playing right down the street, and I had these damn songs of theirs looping and looping endlessly in my head.
Happily, however, this band was focused and tight. Headed by Emil Svanangen (from Sveden), each band member locked into the other completely, keeping a close eye on their leader, and clearly feeling each voice, each different instrument, and each song. And what gorgeous songs! They're melodic, both lush and spare, intense, private but open, and always driving forward. Many songs build, formulaically yet effectively, as layer upon layer of instruments and voices create a pulsating crescendo, to the point of leaving me, ever susceptible to this genre, a little high, a little ecstatic. "Carrying a Stone," "Hard Days, 1, 2, 3, 4," "Saturday Waits," "I Am John," "Sinister in a State of Hope" -- those songs got me to the show. And there are so many others, as this is at least their fourth release.
Most striking for me, the harmonies were actually better live than on recordings. Louder, freer, and never off-key (as is rarely the case with live performances). The sweet keyboard boy was on top of every note, every electronic shift, and blended every harmony perfectly. And the lovely female singer, also at a keyboard but sometimes percussing or jangling something in her hand, although strictly supportive in her role, sings with that wide-open, "full-throated ease" (Keats) that I've always wished I had. Not a huge or belting voice, but the voice in the band that especially seared into my brain.
Emil's high notes, a major part of his sound, are sometimes too high. I prefer his lower register (still not very low!), and his Peter-Pan-crowing style, which he provides only occasionally. There seemed to be more variety in his vocal textures at the live show, which was welcome.
As I watched and listened to them all I was reminded of what it's like singing in choir, where you learn to keep your eyes up, out of your music or your reverie, and on the director, especially at key moments -- beginnings and endings, musical changes, and tricky parts. I fantasized that they all grew up together in their Nordic, frost-bitten, melancholy local church, singing requiems and hymns and other choral music. The following text on Loney, Dear's myspace site reveals that part of my fantasy wasn't too far off after all: "Textural newcomers include clarinets, floortoms and pumporgans to enhance the sonic landscape surrounding the beautiful melodies that sometimes echo age old church hymns." But no, they surely did not grow up singing together as the band-members' names are not even listed on the Loney, Noir CD or on the myspace site, which is, to me, rude and annoying. Especially after being so joyfully entertained not just by Emil, but by them all.