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“It is no fantasy, still fantastical images is my only way to describe the feeling of experiencing it. Words sure can’t,” said CEO of his inner world, as depicted in new album Wonderland. Built upon a fairytale soundscape yet crowded by anxiety, the second album from the former Tough Alliance member is exactly as he describes it. The record’s atmosphere is dreamy and cinematic, yet beneath it lies a sometimes troubling train of subconscious thought.
CEO aka Eric Berglund isolated himself in the Swedish countryside to construct the record and it shows. Throughout, Berglund is completely lost inside his own head, which as it turns out is a wild ride of exotic sounds and jittering vocal samples.
On the surface, opening track Whorehouse is a supremely constructed pop song. Its galloping percussion and anthemic chorus make it the most melodic and accessible song CEO has delivered yet. But beneath it all, Berglund is living through a sexual nightmare. As always, his lyricism is coated in mystery and his only tell is the sad, even desperate cadence when singing the words, “Baby, I’m so lost inside this whorehouse“.
This is followed by a succession of cinematic tracks that could happily provide the musical narrative to a Spike Jonze film. Haikiri creates a tropical soundscape of gushing synths, while In a Bubble on a Stream is a woozy, piano-driven trip that crescendos into a chorus of ‘ahhs.’
With only an eight-song tracklist, Wonderland is effortlessly consistent. Each track melds into the next without much alteration. Together, they successfully project a vivid image of CEO’s colourful yet lonely world.
For much of the record it’s difficult to decipher what is a nightmare and what is a dream. The perilously upbeat synths often distract one from the child-like vocal samples that strobe throughout the tracks creating an unsettling atmosphere.
The title track is perhaps the closest we get to a true dream state. Bouncing beats are complimented by a jubilant Berglund signing about his ideal world, “a point of no return“. It’s followed by Juju, a much needed settler after the heart-racing pace of Wonderland, but it comes only to have its peace torn apart by the particularly jittery Ultrakaos.
OMG ends Wonderland on a high, borrowing a hip-hop beat and a few deep vocal samples. After the circus that proceeded it, the track is a welcome dose of peace. “Take me now, let go forever“, sings Berguland over strings and a choir. The album’s closing lyrics — “Who knows, dude?” — dismiss the anxiety and loneliness that permeate much of the record.
While it can be a trying listen, Wonderland is also a masterful and vivid depiction of the world that sits within the mind of CEO. His feel for melody and skilled arrangements, meanwhile, keep the record enjoyable enough for repeated listens, even if you can’t resonate with the complicated psychology of its creator.