Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
Rarely has a singer sounded more urgent than Agent blå’s Emelie Alatalo does when she pleads “Tell me what the fuck we’re doing!” midway through “Rote Learning.” Indeed, the majority of the group’s gripping self-titled debut swings between the twin poles of anxiety and desperation, goaded on by white-knuckle percussion and guitars that glimmer and sear like sunlight hitting glass. The Gothenburg group—whose members are still, mostly, teenagers—write songs that center around neuroses; sometimes, they’re romantic (“Frustrerad” peaks with Alatalo howling, “Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me…up”), but most of the time they’re panicked responses to everyday dilemmas. Album opener “Derogatory Embrace” rockets out of the gate with roundhouse drumming and a guitar line that sounds lifted from an early Cure demo, as Alatalo, with her deep-blue alto, bellows, “I’m stuck with feeling / Like I’ve met everyone worth meeting.”
The rest of the record is just as tightly wound. The roaring “Strand” is an anthem caked in icicles, the dueling guitars of Felix Skörvald and Lucas Gustavsson jutting up the center, sharp and crystalline. Like much of Agent blå, the action unfolds in jittery fast-forward: “Dizzy blurs left behind blonde highlights / Different kisses every night.”
Skörvald, Gustavsson, and Alatalo used to play Joy Division covers together at local open mics, and Agent blå manages to capture all of that group’s darkness with none of the nihilism. “(Don’t) Talk to Strangers” subtly cops the spiraling guitar arpeggio of “Don’t Stop Believin’” for a song that’s just as anthemic in its own way, and is centered around advice from Alatalo that feels as if it was learned first-hand: “Don’t talk to strangers / You’ll fall in love with them.” “Red, White Rose” is a harrowing bit of divebombing goth-pop, Alatalo singing of cigarettes and lipstick stains while Skörvald and Gustavsson drape guitars like black lace around her. And while Agent blå may spasm with nervousness, there’s a sense of exultation, too. The sweaty recklessness of youth only comes around once; you may as well throw yourself into all of it.
—J. Edward Keyes