Wednesday, December 1, 2010

ceo: White Magic (2010)

(Sincerely Yours)


Catapulting from a brief thematic reprise of "Brazil" and periodically dipping back into its well, this is an album in the old, symphonic sense that Pet Sounds once suggested, in the context of more-than-serviceable dance music by mysterious Swedish entity and Tough Alliance offshot ceo. ceo is Eric Berglund, who actually is the CEO of this record label, but this is one side project and label vanity curio for which you'll be thankful. White Magic is a beautiful, inviting record that amply rewards the attention it briefly requires.

Shorter than most EPs I reviewed this year at a mere twenty-eight minutes, the record nevertheless feels expansive, an Eno-esque aural landscape of sorts. Technophiles alienated by the fragmented blipping of modern electronica will find a home in these earnest and absorbing sonics, sounds, and songs. The opening track "All Around" barely qualifies as pop music, bending more devotedly toward ambient or classical -- slow and heartrending with a shattering cello and a full arrangement that rivets, envelops.

On the whole, though, this is not ambient. It's doggedly pretty dance music with admirable brevity. About half the songs borrow club-oriented conceits, but all with a twist. "No Mercy" and "White Magic" nod to starry-night psychedelic hip hop and Afro-polythmic explosions respectively, while the more conventional new wave of "Love and Do What You Will" is decidedly enhanced by its modern pop theatrics, hooks out of the Ke$ha or Gaga rulebook with an extra-eccentric guard. Best of all is "Illuminata," which aims at the perfect brand of dancefloor catharsis -- creative, bright, nostalgic, and sad, it could almost pass for the Apples in Stereo with a bit more nasal emphasis -- and like any great catharsis, it's over quickly.

The other half shares its fascinating symphonic and folk conceits with "All Around." ceo suggests a fandom of both Andrew Bird and Holland/Dozier/Holland on "Oh God Oh Dear," while "Den Blomstertid nu Kommer" tones down the vivid synth quacking for a naked bit of sentimental folk. It's on "Come with Me" that we seem to get a glimpse of Berglund's soul, which he typically keeps well-protected. This song -- backed with the return of that "Brazil" fragment -- finds him most affected, most willing to surrender, and just because he has to make it a little difficult, it's all built from a weird "keep it real" sample.

Berglund's almost obsessively nonchalant vocals are the ceo project's only undoing. They unwind this often great record into something merely agreeable. It's hard to say if it's just his tone, which is somewhere between Mike Love and Elvis Costello, or his evidently practiced distance, but the strained ambivalence doesn't work for this music. There are shades of something brilliant here; hopefully ceo isn't just a one-off, as has been rumored, and we'll get to hear this develop.

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