Can you feel the passion?
Sweden certainly seems to be a catalyst for electronic pop in recent years, of which Social Ambitions are something of a synth-pop veteran combo. Their new studio album A New Frontier is described as showing a “Love for analogue synths, pop” which it certainly delivers from start to finish.
Consisting of Anders Karlsson (lead vocals, synthesizers, composing, lyrics & production) and Mikael Arborelius (backing vocals, synthesizers, composing & production), Social Ambitions originally formed in Stockholm in 2005. Their first single ‘Burning’ arrived in 2006, followed by debut album Almost Gone in 2010. A scattering of releases followed including a mini album and EP as well as follow-up album Hunger.
In 2017, the pair opted to enter a “musical quarantine” to recharge their creative batteries and find their vision again. A New Frontier is the result of that lengthy gestation period, 11 tracks that cover topics and themes including “the friction between fellowship and privacy, youthful confusion and passion.”
There’s a quirky quality at work across A New Frontier that keeps things interesting. Aside from the polished synth-pop that provide the sturdy foundations for the album, there’s also traces of early Julian Cope, with some nods to that quirky, baroque pop approach (‘Kincroft Chaos’ is the obvious example here). In others, there’s some vocal deliveries that suggest Tears For Fears cast against a more purist electronic template (see ‘Reckless Child’).
The production and mixing on A New Frontier also shows some inventive flourishes, with many of the elements sounding sharp and clear. At the same time, there’s a smooth and seamless feel across the album as a whole.
Opening number ‘Space’ is offered up as a track inspired by “a feeling of freedom, curiosity and positive escapism.” Unsurprisingly, the video for the track pulls in space themes, featuring clips culled from, among others, the European Southern Observatory.
As a song, ‘Space’ has a breezy pop appeal with some compelling lyrical hooks (“There will never be a better place”). It breathes with a hopeful, joyful delivery that seems like the perfect antidote for a year that’s been generally grim all round.
A New Frontier also delivers other widescreen synth-pop offerings, such as the bold ‘I Want You, I Need You’ and the epic ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’. That euphoric, uplifting pop approach lends the album some weight, while also keeping things tight and down to earth. Certainly, there’s a nice dynamism at work on ‘I Want You, I Need You’ with its synth stabs and dreampop vocals.
The quirky ‘Kincroft Chaos’ utilises a soaring vocal turn from Anders Karlsson, matched with some offbeat melodic touches. The song’s themes deal with ideas of growing up and also of escape (“I’m gonna build a spaceship/Gonna fly away”) and provides one of the album’s standout numbers.
Meanwhile, ‘Reckless Child’ employs some smart electronic piano work on a composition which also has a weirdly synth-pop Smiths quality to it. Similarly, ‘Show Me Love’ treads similar territory – an indie pop sensibility married to electropop. There’s a sad, melancholic quality at work here with an earnest, yearning vocal (“We should be friends for all eternity”).
Elsewhere, ‘Turn The Tables’ offers up perky synth-pop with some engaging hooks. But ‘Chemicals’ is a slower synth ballad with a warmer, evocative quality – a perfect quiet moment for the album’s halfway point.
‘Temper’, at times, suggests later period a-ha with an angsty, doleful vocal approach. At the same time, this is a tougher, more percussive composition compared to the other tracks on the album.
Previously released as a single, the bolder ‘Everytime’ continues that more muscular delivery. Described as “A song about always standing up for who and what you believe in”, there’s a depth and broodiness to this composition which is given a cathartic release in lines such as “There’s nobody telling me what to see.”
There’s also a more angular quality to ‘Young Hearts’ with a harder percussion up in the mix. Despite that beefier approach, this is a strikingly emotive number with some inspired synth arrangements and an achingly angsty vocal.
Usually, an album will close out with a slower, more sedate number. Instead, Social Ambitions opt to go out on a high with the soaring tones of ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ As a track, it boasts some synth anthem aspirations which just beg for an audience to sing along to.
The song’s themes revolve around the idea of both meeting someone and the inevitability of parting from them. That mix of euphoria and melancholy is played out across big synth chords that bring to mind the brashness of outfits like Twist Helix.
Ultimately, A New Frontier is a smartly crafted collection of synth-pop that also manages to weave in some indie pop elements, resulting in some striking tunes for the modern era.
A New Frontier is out 12th June 2020.