⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Swedish art-pop masters V/STOL are back with a terrific release that’s as engrossing as it is enjoyable. Continuing the winning formula of last year’s Sharp as Sharks, the songs on La Carucet never parade their charms, unfolding at an easy pace with no wasted motion. This time around the mood is decidedly optimistic. No more ruminating on past decisions; no more empty bottle confessions of inadequacy. As probing and purifying as introspection can be, songs like “Trashcan Fantasy” and “No Vacancy Mama” have no need of shrinks’ couches, not when their mood is so light. Without being sentimental, “They Ran Away” recalls ones that got away and what might’ve beens like finding an old shopping list in last year’s winter coat and realizing you never did buy those olives.
Nothing seems out of place here. There’s a tidiness to the mix that brings clarity to the opaque. Track after track reveal their genius of brevity as supporting melodic lines appear and disappear as needed as if the band is willing to share their compositional secrets with you because they know it’s not a competition.
Also, even if you have their formula you can’t do it as well as they do so just sit back and enjoy the paradox that is V/STOL. No one else so casually presents the exotic in such a familiar context and vice versa. Sometimes insistent and sometimes playful, their distinct sound is unlike anything else in modern music. Often brooding but always from a cool distance, darkness figures heavily on their menu but it’s more atmosphere than intent. They can also invoke endless cloudy sunsets or loud lonely crowds.
“Your Last Beer” stumbles agreeably in and out of an 8 bar blues riff while “Full Of Candy” shrinks a rave-sized party down to microfiche with lo-tech beeps and buzzy growls wrapped around staccato bass and icy drum loops. It’s what the band has done so well over the years: conjure a rich soundscape from the barest of scattered ingredients. Slick, sparse arrangements built on minimalist instrumentation keeps things from getting bogged down, allowing lead singer Owen Larsson’s scratchy tenor room to breathe.
The melodies are in no short supply as he stacks his voice into mile high harmonies or the threadbarest whisper. Keyboardist Mank Stahl provides accompaniment that swirls and shimmers, showing restraint while holding down the ambient pulse of “Robots Forever” or showering “Catpiss” with counterpoint playfullness. Bass, drums and guitar pound and bounce like an oily machine on “Violate My Mind” courtesy of Jamil Kane, Gustav Porter and Daz Yobs, respectively; on other tracks those same three touch on neo-funk and even hint at stoner prog. While the latter can be traced to tracks like “Cremate” and “Ill Advised” from 2019’s Fading Lights, the former recalls last year’s college radio darling “Last Option” with its crunch-crunk afterparty vibe and relatable lyric.
The band shows creativity to spare as each song contains more melodies than most other bands’ entire albums. In this, V/STOL seem almost greedy; hogging all the catchy melodies they can find, leaving precious little for everyone else. But who cares? Let those others fend for themselves. These guys know what to do with their allotted time: deliver, deliver, deliver. And deliver some more.
Rewarding songwriting that disguises its own complexity in memorable melodies delivered with lean urgency, La Carucet is a terrific release from a band that has flirted with greatness in the past. They’ve taken us on a journey into their insightful creativity and now, be you novice or longtime fan, we can all share in the resultant banquet.