Just mopping up a few 2022 records that I didn’t get to before the end of the year. Nigeria’s Rema plays smooth Afrobeats with some Arabian and Indian influences. Sweden’s Sara Parkman plays art-folk on an album titled after three kinds of love. Portland’s Anna Tivel’s fourth album is poised and insightful. All three sing beautifully.
Eros Agape Philia
If you’ve ever studied the Bible, you’re probably familiar with the three Greek words for different kinds of love. Eros is erotic love, agape is divine love, and philia is brotherly love. Swedish folk musician Sara Parkman was inspired by “studies of theology and bible texts on love, combined with inspiration from thinkers such as the mystic Gunnel Vallquist and the philosopher Byung-Chul Han.” There’s a lot going on musically – she’s ostensibly a folk artist, but there are dollops of Wagnerian bombast, and it employs modern synths and dance beats tastefully at times.
Parkman’s ability to mix and match genres evidence on the standout track ‘Till Salka’, which takes flight from meditative to a trippy dancefloor beat. If the below translation is accurate, she’s a strong lyricist as well.
Swedish-Finnish singer-songwriter Markus Krunegård sounds great duetting with Parkman on ‘Mörkgröna älven’.
Parkman already has a distinctive and unique style figured out on her sophomore album – an impressive feat.
Anna Tivel makes small-scale music, with low-key tunes about ordinary people. She told Robert Horvat that “I’m drawn over and over to the small stories of people (myself included) just trying to get by, to do a little better, to feel some sort of beauty in an ugly world.” But her lyrics are disarmingly incisive at times.
The entire record barely raises above a gentle conversation, but there is enough textural variation to keep things interesting. Piano and strings colour ‘Two Dark Horses’, while there’s a light drum machine on ‘Royal Blue’ and a slinky electric piano (I think?) on ‘Invisible Man’.
Tivel’s keenly observed vignettes are impressive.
Rave & Roses
Nigerian artist Rema describes his music as “Afrorave”, a subgenre of Afrobeats that includes influences from Arabian and Indian music. Starting off singing in Church, Rema’s popularity has grown quickly – he’s been featured on a Barack Obama playlist and has reached a billion plays on Spotify. Rema has a lovely voice, able to deliver rhythmic raps or dreamy singing. With the lovely singing, pretty production, and airy tunes, Rave & Roses goes down easily. It doesn’t completely fulfil Rema’s potential – it’s too homogeneous for an hour’s running time, and his lyrics are often too facile.
But it’s great in small doses. The hit single ‘Calm Down’ was inspired by Rema getting blocked from his love interest by her protective friends, The integration of Indian instrumentation into ‘Love’ is effective, while the woozy synths that drive ‘Oroma Baby’ are a great touch. Conversely, the Chris Brown duet on ‘Time N Affection’ is a low point – “Girl, I dey feel your pressure/I will never leave you, you’re my treasure” is a shoddy lyric.
Rema is an impressive vocalist, even if Rave & Roses is less than the sum of its parts.
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