Top Quality Bones and a Little Terrorist
inter Tour,” the first song on Britta Persson’s gorgeous debut album, drifts in on a couple of strummed acoustic guitar chords—spare, wintry, inexpert. After a second or two, Persson’s breathy voice floats in, following a cheerful, offhand melody that sounds like a girl singing to herself as she skips on the sidewalk: “The music we were listening to, it is still my favorite music,” she confides before launching into a snaky, meandering “ah-ah-ah” melody, backed by a one-hand piano line that winds to the top of the scale almost like an afterthought. Thirty seconds in, Persson has stepped completely into focus and left an indelible impression. Then, just as quickly as she appeared, Persson skips past us, the song breezes out at three minutes, and, transfixed, we lean forward to hit “repeat.”
Swedish singer/songwriter Persson’s lo-fi debut casts a welcoming, well-worn spell over the length of its ten songs. Chord progressions never stray from the familiar; tempos rarely pick up above an amble; and Persson uses her airy, light voice, which recalls both Cat Power’s soulful murmur and Regina Spektor’s girlish lilt, to cock her head at stubbornly normal subjects and render them strange. “My best friend / She just got dumped,” she repeats in the hymnal “Oh How Wrong,” carefully enunciating each word over rising chords, as if to trying to search for the sadness behind the fact of the words. Then, in “Low or Wine,” she sings “I just thought / Nevermind what I thought” over a simple piano figure, stretching the melody out until the words dissolve and become merely sound, transforming a hesitating, conversational tic into a meditative moment.
Persson tends to get caught by little moments like this—imbuing them with unexpected beauty. When her attention focuses on a larger subject, as on “You Are Not My Boyfriend” the results tend to be upsetting and abrupt. “I want you to feel something / If not love, then hate will do,” she wails, as a vintage-sounding drum machine sputters in the background. The messy episode is over in a little over a minute, and soon Persson has settled back into her dreamy repose, which suits her far better. When she’s worked up, insistently singing “The next time I wake up, it won’t be with you,” Persson sounds merely angsty, but when she drowsily coos “I permanently have my finger up for you” it sounds beatific and vaguely mysterious.
The instrumentation is spare: a piano and brushed drum kit fleshing out Persson’s acoustic guitar is about as crowded as the room usually gets. As in her lyrics, Persson tends to seek out the beauty in little moments: in “Train Song,” the plucked guitar notes land like raindrops, as if she were savoring the resonance of each and every one. On “Low or Wine,” she leans into the reverb pedal like someone just discovering its possibilities. With this reduced-scale, small gestures suddenly seem grand, and little cymbal washes and piano rolls register with heightened effect. When a single accordion warms up the solo acoustic arrangement in “Finger Is Up,” the effect is enough to give you shivers. Persson’s pleasingly trance-inducing first record is a catalogue of such moments, and they add up to one of the most personal, immediate, and charming singer-songwriter albums I’ve heard in a long time.