When Matilda Mård released “Video Child” nearly two years ago under the moniker Many Voices Speak, the song marked the triumphant return of a woman and singer-songwriter who at one point lost her confidence and almost quit music entirely. After years of toiling in Stockholm’s music scene and with little success, Mård moved to Borlänge to refocus, spending her days just writing without any distractions or pressures. The allure of singing, however, was too great, and she rediscovered her passion at the karaoke bar. It was, as she explains, “far away from my own self-doubts and prestige about music.” Her inaugural EP, Away For All Time, shortly followed, and it showcased her dire yet beautiful dream-pop. With the arrival her debut album, Tank Town, she delivers another stunning effort.

Tank Town is a gorgeous and dreamy record that retains Mård’s devastatingly honest lyricism. On each of the LP’s nine songs, the Swedish artist elegantly articulates the constant struggles she encounters within and around her. The melancholic title track immediately reveals both dynamics. As shallow beats and a soft synth hum in the background, Mård reflects on her time “outside the city lights” and the place where she experienced heartbreak and failure. Weakness and confusion are shared on the Chris Isaak-like “Bad Woman”, on which Mård vulnerably explains:

“I saw my best in you
Fade into a bad woman
And you held me again, again, again.”

Tank Town‘s best moments, however, occur when Many Voices Speak go widescreen, where she equally stirring emotions with cinema and words, such as on “Necessaries”. It’s a solemn yet stunning affair in the mould of Mazzy Star, and Mård, like Hope Sandoval, reveals her soul and heart. She calmly admits, “I fear I need your love”. Meanwhile, “Bony Shelter” tinges with the titillating bass lines of The xx with the romanticism of Rhye, and the combination yields the feeling of a lonely midnight drive. And it is breathtaking. Mård’s songwriting is fascinating, as she recounts how one person has embraced the negativity that finds her, particularly all the “cold-heart answers”.

The radiant and lightly groovy “Chances” is a dream-pop marvel. Mård’s gorgeous voice delicately describes what she sees. From the “purple snow” to the person who “makes me wanna change my ways”, her realm is one of color and constant transformation. There are no answers to her questions, which makes this place one of uncertainty yet full of beautiful surprises. It is like a dream coming true, and one of the album’s rare moments of optimism.

The album, though, reaches its zenith early on with “I Saw You”, which is one of the most devastatingly beautiful songs of not just this year, but any year. It commences with a lush and intimate approach before it gradually accelerates and intensifies. As the chiming guitar enters the fold and the rhythms become more urgent, the track reaches exhilarating and breathtaking levels. Mård’s vocals are at their most stunning, but her tale is heartbreaking. She recounts how one person has opted to travel a path with another, leaving his long-time partner in the distance. For the other, however, she cannot shake his imagine and touch from her mind. He is forever ingrained in her memory. Just like how Tank Town will long be remembered as Matilda Mård’s biggest triumphant to date. An album that permanently puts her on the Swedish map – on the world map.

Tank Town is out now on Strangers Candy (Europe) and Hit City USA. Get it on Bandcamp.

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