Every year sees a young band unexpectedly emerge and win over fans and critics alike. In 2014, it was Alvvays. The following year belonged to Wolf Alice and Preoccupations (fka Viet Cong). Car Seat Headrest, Big Thief, Mothers, and Sunflower Bean ruled 2016. This year’s breakout band could very well be Agent blå.
The quintet from Gothenburg, Sweden have been turning heads since they arrived on the scene in December 2015 with “Strand”. Their debut single was an introduction that had many, including ourselves, going “wow”. They’ve released a few singles in the past 18 months, but at long last their debut album has arrived. Like the first LPs of the bands and artists list above, Agent Blue is a jaw-dropping, eye-opening record. It is a fierce and unrelenting collection of post-punk, shoegaze, and indie-rock tracks that echo the ’80s and early ’90s. Yet, each member of the band is still a teenager, demonstrating that Agent blå are not merely another music outfit but they are still students of their craft.
The album commences with a massive bang in “Derogatory Embrace”. This post-punk track explodes right out of the gate with fierce guitars and urgent rhythms that will get the heart racing and the adrenaline following. Elements of early Blondie, Savages, and My Bloody Valentine blare through the intensity. Frontwoman Emelie Alatalo’s vocals, too, wail with the fiery urgency of a person imprisoned within her surroundings. The aforementioned “Strand” follows, offering a fantastic one-two punch to open the album. Dark, delirious, and spine-tingling, the song is akin to Pat Benatar fronting Savages.
“(Don’t) Talk To Strangers”, offers a slight reprieve with its blend of The Cure-like goth-pop and Alvvays-style guitar-pop. It is highly energetic and infectious, and it will have you on your feet and hollering the chorus. Similarly, “Rote Learning” is a wonderful blend of jangle-pop and the soaring shoegaze of A Place To Bury Strangers. The song’s lyrics, though, are terrific. “What the fuck are we doing?”, yells Alatalo on this anthem for every lost soul and every person seeking a second chance.
Along the same lines, “Flustered” is a feverish, post-punk pop tune that blazes with the energy Paramore. The lyrics are biting, poignant, and brutally honest, as Alatalo takes on misogyny and the daily harassment experienced by women.
Your shadow is darker than mine.
Your lips so inviting.
I fell for you pretty hard.
But I knew it was all too wrong.
Fuck me up and kiss me hard.
My bed is cold and so is my heart.
Lips so pink and voice so soft.
Fuck me up I feel so lost.
Not surprisingly, the ghost of Joy Division lingers prominently on the album. On the brooding, post-punk tune, “Red, White Rose”, Agent blå adopt the Manchester’s legends industrial-infused sound. The military-style drumming, the probing bass line, and the unflinching pierces of the guitars are right out of the late ’70s, and the result is a menacing rocker. Alatalo’s vocals take on a more controlled and quiet tone to reflect the feeling of a woman constantly being watched. The explosive “Lucid” similarly is dark, grueling, and unrelenting. Every element masterfully cascades into a chest-pounding melody, and the gritty soundscape provides the perfect canvas for Alatalo’s story of a person who is either on the run or lost.
The ’70s also blast on “Dream Boy Dream” and “21:38”. Both possess a Blondie-esque delirium – songs that take over your mind and have you lose yourself on the dance floor. The closer, “Faust”, is the most controlled track on the album, yet also its most intimate. The melodic approach perfectly complements Alatalo’s re-telling of the classic German story of the same name. For those unfamiliar with Faust, he’s a scholar who makes a pact with the devil, trading his soul for unlimited knowledge and wealth. The song, as such, is the ideal ending to a record that has centered around power, obsession, and destruction.
Agent blå may be teenagers and still students, but they have delivered one of the year’s most powerful, intelligent, and anthemic albums of the year. Agent Blue is truly a marvel to behold, making the quintet of Lucas Gustavsson, Emelie Alatalo, Felix Skörvald, Josefine Täck, and Arvid Christensen are a force to be reckoned with for a very long time.
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