Red Sleeping Beauty - Kristina (Labrador Records)

Red Sleeping Beauty – Kristina (Labrador Records)

Never heard of Red Sleeping Beauty before?  They’re a Swedish group named after a song by 80’s Marxist band McCarthy?  Still nothing?  Well its little wonder, since they’ve been away for over two decades.  Now they’re back after nearly 20 years with a brand new album, Kristina.

Named as a tribute to band-member Kristina Borg, who has struggled with breast cancer over the past few years but is now doing well.  Imagine, if you will, the fey lovelorn bittersweet male/female vocal interplay of Belle and Sebastian inter-playing with the sounds of early Pet Shop Boys and OMD, bathed in the modernist glow of Swedish sensitivity.  Then you are someway to picturing the sound that Red Sleeping Beauty have concocted since their first releases in the early 90s.

Kristina is the sound of Red Sleeping Beauty sound mark 2, setting up strict rules for the recordings: only analogue synthesisers and one acoustic guitar allowed.  It makes for warmer, more plush production values and a maturity that’s brought to bear on their delicate brand of electro indie pop, led by singer/guitarist Niklas Angergård.  The record is laden with well pitched parting from loved ones and the sorrow of loneliness.  Opener ‘Cheryl Cheryl Bye’ is typical an aching, prodding electro-pop song, dripped in fondly comforting sounds of vintage drum machines and synths, matched to achingly poetic, like a letter set in cinematic freeze-frame, parting from a loved one is one of such sweet sorrow.

Elsewhere, highlights are scattered like jewels throughout this long-player, including the gorgeously crafted album standout ‘Always,’ an imperious slice of perfectly pitched melancholic indie-disco-pop laced with glacial pirouetting synth lines, clipped beats and garnished with elegantly soulful harmonies that shiver with the longing of unrequited love, staring into the middle distance as the chorus bursts like shooting stars in the night sky.  This is matched by the twinkling grandeur of ‘Tell Me More’ whose dancefloor seduction is doe eyed and gorgeous.

Later on, the skittering melancholia of ‘In the Darkest Hour’ is regretful and introspective yet delicious, its melodies and dark minor chord synth progression tumbling down deserted stairwells like a lost OMD track.  Shifting gears is ‘If you Want Affection,’ redolent of the yearning casio perfectionism of early Pet Shop Boys with its minimal beats and beeps, alongside the sighing refrains.  Maybe it doesn’t quite have the choruses to sustain, but its a largely delightful album track.  The twinkling festivities of ‘Merry Christmas Marie’ is the one really incongruous misstep on the album, its upbeat pastiche sounding somehow out of place in the July heat.

“No, I can’t make it go away” sings Niklas on the heartbroken majesty ‘Breaking Up is Easy’ with its aching harmonies and delicate backing vocals provided by Borg that hang in the air like heavy regret of falling out, the plinking keyboard motif being a clear nod to the riff from The Cure‘s ‘Close to Me’.

Self referential closer ‘I Am the Artist’ has a whiff of Peter, Bjorn and John-esque Scandi-melodic structure with a title that nods to Kraftwerk, where some wonderful horns are set alongside a singalong chorus.  Whilst it doesn’t quite work and falls into slight novelty, it is charming all the same.  Kristina is a gorgeous, well crafted return after 20 years, harnessing the fondly forgotten with timeless melodies and dripping in heart and soul.  Don’t leave it so long in future guys.

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