Sweden’s latest export is Amanda Mair, a clear-voiced up-and-comer whose debut self-titled album is getting plenty of buzz and critical acclaim. This synth-pop album is worthy of the hype. Mair’s sound is very similar to Kate Bush, an artist Mair is too young to know. In fact, in the “Subterranean Homesick Blues”-inspired video for “Sense,” Mair holds poster boards that read “Who is Kate Bush?” and “I prefer Spice Girls.” Mair was discovered by Labrador Records at age 15 and is now just a few weeks shy of her eighteenth birthday. This is a surprising fact given the mature sound and lyrics on the album. The words speak of experience; of on-again, off-again relationships (“Before,” “Sense;”) of drinking with past lovers (“Skinnarviksberget,” “What Do You Want;”) and of returning to an apartment once shared with a lover (“House.”) Given her age, it’s clear that the songs were written by others. Her songwriters are Swedish indie pop heavyweights including the head of her label, Johan Angergård, and her producer, Philip Ekström, who are both veteran pop artists. In addition to producing the album and writing two of its catchiest songs, “Sense” and “Doubt,” Ekström played most of the instruments. Labrador put together a winning team for this album, but it should be interesting to see Mair come into her own and have the chance to write and play instruments on her next release (she can play piano, drums and a little guitar and bass.)
Mair’s voice is angelic. It is crystal clear and never strains to reach notes, she has the natural talent to have a long, successful career. I have a lot of respect for any vocalist who can sing “spoon me” without it coming off as a joke, as she does in “Skinnarviksberget” (which is the name of the hill near Stockholm, by the way.) The use of strings, piano, and atypical percussion (like claves, chimes, handclaps, and maracas) coupled with excellent production make this album stand out from other indie pop releases.
The album has some amazing tracks including “Doubt,” “House,” and “Sense.” “Doubt” is a modern take on Kate Bush, but sung with the clear vocals of Robyn, another Swedish pop star. “House” starts as a simple piano-fuelled ballad but soon builds into a compelling pop song. “Sense” brings to mind early ‘60s pop with its catchy, infectious beats. These three songs are within the first four of the ten tracks, giving the album a strong start but sort of a drop in interest toward the end. There’s nothing exactly wrong with the later songs, they just lack the strength and excitement of the beginning of the record (aside from track six, “Before,” which is strong and catchy despite it’s placement on the album.) Even so, the worst song on this album would likely be better received than the best song on other up-and-coming pop artists’ debut records. Check out Amanda Mair before she’s all over VH1, which by rights she should be soon.