‘Wonderland’ dives down rapturous rabbit hole
Published: Thursday, February 6, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 6, 2014 09:02
Like its literary namesake, CEO’s sophomore album “Wonderland” is an eclectic adventure that combines elements from a great range of sources, which will — as they merge together in a wild amalgam of cheer and melancholy — both delight and depress listeners. A sometimes confusing but mostly fun blend of fantasy and color fills this daring album; indeed, “Wonderland” features many of the same curious ingredients that characterized Lewis Carroll’s classic novel.
CEO is the solo effort of Swede Eric Berglund, who was half of the Gothenburg-based electronic duo The Tough Alliance until 2010. Well established in the Swedish indie electronic pop scene, Berglund co-founded Sincerely Yours in 2005, a record label that hosted prominent artists such as Air France and jj. This second album follows 2010’s critically acclaimed “White Magic,” released by the then-non-capitalized ceo.
The LP begins with a declaration: “I felt like I opened Pandora’s box / and now I have to close it.” The line comes from the 2010 documentary “Feathered Cocaine,” a film about the international trading of falcons and its connections to terrorist organizations. This opening quotation is not only a strong example of this album’s incredibly varied origins, but also of the wild nature of the music.
The first track, the bouncy and sugary “Whorehouse,” is the lead single and also one of the album’s most impressive numbers. Like much of the record, the hopeless lyrics and heavy title of “Whorehouse” belies the childish fun of the song — as youthful shouts of glee are contrasted with lines like, “I’m lost inside a whorehouse / no one can protect me from my game.” One ponders the meaning of these lyrics until the uncontrollable melody kicks in — causing listeners to bob their heads and whistle along. Similarly, in “Mirage,” an accessible and danceable beat is accompanied by lyrics that suggest darker themes: as the synths swirl and the percussion persists, subtle moans are paired with Berglund’s singing, “When you say love / I see a mirage.”
The album’s title track is a clear highlight and is similar to “Whorehouse” in its blend of incredibly catchy synth melodies and relentless percussion. As an invitation to the imaginary world of Wonderland, this song begins the second half of the brief, 33-minute album. Although short, “Wonderland” has songs like “Bubbles in the Stream” and “jUjU” — which, with their ethereal and mostly instrumental ambience — serve as interludes. Evoking dream-like feelings of floating on a cloud, these tracks have a clear purpose on an album full of songs that take the listener on faster and busier adventures.
There is an abundance of different themes present on this album and fans can examine many of them in-depth by giving “Wonderland” repeat listens. The mysterious and sometimes anti-social Berglund proves he is deserving of this exploration. Like the music produced by artists such as Panda Bear, the various layers and diversity of CEO’s creation prove that this work will be most gratifying to those who spend time with it.
After almost a decade of making music, Berglund has created a fully satisfying, wide-ranging album. At times it is deeply rooted in fantasy, while in other moments it comes face-to-face with the harsh truths of reality — and sometimes it manages to do both. “Wonderland” is truly a dive through the looking glass. While occasionally bordering on a sensory overload, CEO’s production fluctuates between a great array of conflicting emotions and sounds, but still avoids falling into a nebulous middle ground. Although the final line of the album features a man wondering, “Who knows, dude?” one feels assured after a few listens that Berglund certainly does.