- A stellar romance-inspired album from a unique techno artist.
- Gore-Tex City, the third volume of Varg's Nordic Flora series, underlined the contradictions of Jönas Ronnberg's identity. While the Swedish producer was posting pictures of wads of cash and champagne bottles, he was making techno and ambient music—named for train lines he's taken around the world—that sounded lonely, even sad. The mood was heightened by a melodic gift that's only become more prominent over time. That gift really blooms on Crush, the fifth—and apparently final—volume of the Nordic Flora series. (The fourth comes bundled with an ultra-limited version of part five.) This time, the focus shifts from loneliness to companionship: romantic themes abound on an album meant to get across the "chemical freefall" that comes with having a crush. Rönnberg dials up the atmosphere and melodrama for his richest—and most freeform—record yet.
Much of Crush is ambient. Past Nordic Flora editions featured soaring beats and melancholy pop, while this one finds itself somewhere in the middle. The voices are often hidden behind gauzy layers and the drums stutter and drag. Rönnberg writes this album in bold strokes of melody and texture, from the aching opener "Music For Breakups" to the deep drones of sub-bass on the closing "Final Crush (For 940524)." The clubbiest tracks are more like billowing clouds than driving forces—"U Control The Ocean (Second Crush)" features a slow pendulum swing of a rhythm, while you can barely hear the beats on "Love Economy/Anti Police Music," which slowly melts into beatless sound collage. These tracks are mere gestures towards the heady techno that made Varg famous.
Rönnberg's regular collaborators return for this one—notably, contemporary artist Chlöe Wise and vocalist AnnaMelina, with whom Rönnberg has started a more pop-oriented project called FLORA. (They also released an ambient record together earlier this month.) She gets a showcase on "Blue Line 2 (112 Fridhemsplan)," but where Yung Lean's equivalent turn on Gore-Tex City was majestic and catchy, AnnaMelina's melodies are fed through effects, her words slightly obscured.
Wise reprises her slam poetry on "Archive 1 'Spit Sugar Free Red Bull Into My Mouth,'" deadpanning everything from romantic overtures ("Tell me my skin is soft... Imagine my arms around your waist") to seemingly random proclamations ("Feel safe: eat Babybel, superfoods" or "Don't touch me, I'm self-employed"). Around her, Rönnberg and fellow producers Matti Bye, Christian Augustin and Henrik Söderström build a staggering soundscape of ambience and instrumentation, highlighting how far Rönnberg has come from the lo-fi techno of Skaeliptom.
The sound design is turned up to 11 on Crush, an album that makes even its all-encompassing predecessor seem restrained in comparison. Acoustic guitar, piano and brushed percussion add a warm glow to "Archive 1," while the drums on "Rush/Tinder" are robust and pithy, as if they were sampled from a live kit. "OND_F.T.P." is an unsettling mélange of manipulated voices and and sighing horns, while "Archive 2 'DM Excerpts Between @skaeliptom & @chloewise'" features various levels of filtering that makes Wise's dialogue sound like it's coming from the other end of a phone, or being whispered directly into your ear.
Crush's emphasis on melody and sound design also makes it a more amorphous record than its predecessor. Even the most straightforward tracks aren't all that straightforward. "(+46) Placing My iPhone X Facing Up To See When U Answer My Texts" is heavily broken and layered with gun cocking sounds, and "Rush/Wickr" is playfully bouncy and packed with silly samples like airhorns, adding the usual shades of Varg humour to otherwise pitch-perfect dance music. Only "Rush/Tindr" feels particularly heavy, bounding forward with the brutal energy of Rönnberg's The Empire Line project.
Those last two tracks refer to messaging apps. One is the world's most popular dating app, and the other is an encrypted user-to-user platform used for everything from political espionage to illicit love affairs. In Varg's world, seemingly contradictory things make strange bedfellows. The spoken-word tracks attest to this. Wise's "Archive 1" features non sequiturs like "I love you more than my natural hair colour / By the way, yoga has good vibes." It also features some of the most beautiful music that Rönnberg has ever made. It's deadly serious and a complete joke at the same time, which is what makes Rönnberg's music stand out in the techno scene. He shows you can take the genre seriously and have fun with it, too.
01. Music For Breakups feat. Morning Star
03. Vanity Lights (First Crush) feat. Ecco2k
04. (+46) Placing My iPhone X Facing Up To See When U Answer My Texts
05. Stonewall Poem feat. AnnaMelina
06. U Control The Ocean (Second Crush)
08. Love Economy/Anti Police Music
09. Archive 1 "Spit Sugar Free Red Bull Into My Mouth" feat. Chloe Wise, Matti Bye, Christian Augustin & Henrik Söderström
10. Blue Line 2 (112 Fridhemsplan) feat. AnnaMelina & Vanity Productions
12. Archive 2 "DM Excerpts Between @skaeliptom & @chloewise_”
13. 5 Stars & Vanity Lights feat. Ecco2k
14. Final Crush (For 940524)