It's been a long, unproductive day. Nobody's responding to my emails, and nobody's favoriting my tweets. One of my Facebook "friends" just announced that he's taking an awesome new job, and I can't help but feel a little jealous and pathetic about that, because it seems like my own life is in the lurch. A publicist is blowing me off, loneliness is creeping in and my diet regimen is flagging in the face of so much leftover Thanksgiving pie.
On days like today, I just want to get in the car and drive away. I want to get in a plane and fly to Cape Town or Cairo or Timbuktu. I want to climb into an iron submersible with a giant, convex windshield, like something out of a Jules Verne novel, and plunge to the bottom of the ocean, to explore mysterious byways and scientific wonders. I want to quit altogether, to be alone with myself—anywhere but here, doing anything but this.
But I don't have a plane ticket, and I sure as hell don't have a submersible. What I do have, however, is Icona Pop's new album, This Is Icona Pop. And, honestly, that's all I need.
Pull that puppy up on iTunes, and in a matter of seconds, I'm exactly where I need to be: spinning on a merry-goround of dubstep bass and oonce-oonce drums, smiling wide as two sparkling angels of the night cry three magical words into my ear: "I. Don't. Care!"
Icona Pop—a duo composed of Caroline Hjelt, 26, and Aina Jawo, 27— hail from Sweden, a nation famed as much for its functional home furnishings as its polished pop music. This is the land of ABBA, Robyn and The Knife, and a discerning listener can pick up on hints of all three artists in the music of the Stockholm electro-pop duo—whether in the quirky electronics of their 2011 breakout single, "Manners," or in the timely production and sassy lyrical destruction of their more recent smash hit, "I Love It."
Of course, most everybody knows Icona Pop—who'll play House of Blues on Sunday, Dec. 15—only by that one song, "I Love It." A blazing breakup banger written by British songwriter Charli XCX with an assist from Swedish producers Patrik Berger and Linus Eklöw, it's ruled the airwaves for two summers in a row, showing up in everything from Girls to Glee. Bristling with talk of flaming cars and proud '90s bitches, it's the very definition of up-to-the-minute dance-floor fodder, but one could still make the argument that it stands up in the grand pantheon of empowered pop tunes.
Alas, a success this big is often impossible to replicate, and when I first heard the song in the summer of 2012, I assumed Icona Pop would end up a one-hit wonder. Thankfully for these ladies, though, they have more than one good song to their name. This Is Icona Pop—their debut international release, which came out on Big Beat and Record Company Ten in September—is full of bright moments, from the runaway-train pop-rock of "Then We Kiss" to the eccentric abandon of "On a Roll" ("You go with me / there will not be drinking of tea") to the cheerful EDM sisterhood of "Girlfriend," which hinges on a hooky lyric borrowed from 2Pac.
Unsurprisingly, "I Love It" is still the best song on the album. It's the opening track, and by the time the next song comes around, Hjelt and Jawo have already more-or-less dispensed with their most thrilling, destructive tendencies. Where "I Love It" is full of details you could sink your teeth into (cars being crashed into bridges, shit being thrown down the stairs), follower "All Night" relies on cheesy wordplay ("smash the club," "make the pop go rock") and a relentless EDM beat that wouldn't sound out of place in an X Games commercial.
And yet, when I bump "All Night" on headphones, I still find myself wanting to dance in public. Indeed, though the album's most Spice Girls-esque moments might make some listeners pine for a track like "Manners"—far more outré but no less infectious, with a visually striking, dayglo-streaked music video—the album still carries a liberating vibe. A hipster has to listen to Carly Rae Jepsen in secret or pretend he only likes "Call Me Maybe" ironically. But Icona Pop offers carefree, guilt-free listening; only a fool or a curmudgeon would be embarrassed to admit to being a fan.
The two ladies of Icona Pop met at a party in Stockholm in 2009 and started writing songs the very next day. They've been friends all the while, and you can feel the positive vibes in the way they sing in unison, their two voices coming together in a lovely call to the dance-floor heavens.
One day, this duo might reach out from beyond their party-hearty comfort zone and explore deeper nuances. But whatever happens, these voices will still be the ones I turn to on a bad day. Because if there's one thing Icona Pop is great at, it's making you feel that, hey, maybe life isn't so crappy after all.
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