CEO’s new albums is a ‘Wonderland’
John Darr | Tuesday, February 4, 2014
The first words spoken on CEO’s sophomore album sound a whole lot like a promise: a promise to take the listener through a world of unsettling yet powerful music and somehow lead them out in peace. As it turns out, CEO’s just the man for the job.
CEO, aka singer/songwriter/producer Eric Berglund, has been in the indie-electronic music scene for almost 10 years now. Berglund co-founded the electronica duo The Tough Alliance in 2004 and founded his own record label, Sincerely Yours, a year later. The Tough Alliance split up in 2009, but Berglund continued running Sincerely Yours and used it to launch his first solo act, CEO.
CEO’s 2010 debut album, “White Magic,” displayed Berglund’s fantastic ear for synth hooks and catchy samples. “White Magic” contained a plethora of songs that dove from conventional verses and choruses into epic ambient soundscapes and dance-y, beat-driven jams at a moment’s notice. On “Wonderland,” CEO continues to craft unpredictable, yet infectious, pop songs.
However, the streamlined production and straightforward arrangements on “White Magic” has been completely revolutionized on “Wonderland.” What once operated well with a limited spectrum of sounds is now being filled to the brim with new colors and instruments.
Overall, the maximalist sound of the music fits the “Wonderland” theme very well, granting the listener just the sort of psychedelic and overwhelming experience it promises. Opener “Whorehouse” boasts a host of bright, yelping vocal samples twisting in and out of a stomping world-percussion beat, not to mention about three instrumental melodies dancing around Belgrund’s vocals during the explosive chorus. Then there’s “Harakiri,” where soaring vocal melodies share room with a raver synth and a beautiful wall of strings and the title track, which is essentially videogame theme song as rave anthem. “Wonderland” is largely a rainbow box of musical toys, and a very good one at that.
However, the darkness suggested by the Pandora’s box reference is far from absent. Troubling themes are present at many places in the album. On opener “Whorehouse,” Belgrund sings “Baby I’m so lost inside a whorehouse/no one can protect me from my game” in a careless tone, suggesting simultaneous bliss, loss, and confinement. “Mirage,” easily the darkest song on the album, features moaning and twisted, creeping bell melodies that clash confusingly with lighthearted vocal melodies. “Mirage” focuses again on confusion regarding joy and sex; on its chorus Belgrund admits that “When you see love/I see a mirage.”
The maximalist arrangements and thematic heaviness of the album can threaten to overwhelm at times. Yet while the album rollercoasters musically and thematically, it manages to work as a whole. Two bright instrumental tracks, “In a Bubble on a Stream” and “Juju,” break up the intensity. While the album ricochets from dark to light, it roots itself in hope at the end. Closer “OMG” sports samples of a preacher repeating, “I remember, yes I remember” and a bro-sounding guys laughing and saying “That’s just the way I see things! Who knows dude.” In spite of all the flashing lights and confusion, “Wonderland” ultimately mirrors our crazy world and gives us a pat on the back for just getting along.
“Wonderland” is a hugely ambitious and intense album boasting complex lyrical themes cast in massive, colorful frames. Its vibrant production and straightforward approach to some sexual topics will alienate some listeners but provide a fun and rewarding listen to those who grapple with it. Pandora’s box may be a frightening concept, but CEO has managed to provide a safe way through its walls. Now it’s just up to you to take the journey.