It’s hard not to contextualize LÉON, an emerging Swedish pop artist, from the dynasty of Swedish divas that have preceded her. From Robyn to Lykke Li to Tove Lo, Sweden’s pop exports have broken into the mainstream through a style of dance pop that unites contradictory impulses to dance and to cry. Over the past fifteen years, their records consist of club-fueled hooks about loves lost and mistakes made. At this point, they have crafted a lineage, forward-thinking pop characterized by a flirtation with electronic influences and a keen ear for sticky hooks.
Armed with Circles’ black-and-red mood shot and an all-caps stage name, the stage is set for LÉON (born Lotta Lindgren) to inherit this mantle. Except that she doesn’t. LÉON actively takes a different approach towards pop than her Swedish predecessors. By opting for a softer, more reflective, and more approachable palette, LÉON, ironically, sticks out from her peers in the Swedish pop space. Her third album, Circles, is not a hedonistic night of drugs, dancing, and drama, but a sun-soaked afternoon.
LÉON starts in places of boredom and mundanity: she’s staring at the ceiling, staring at her closet, staring at the TV, always accompanied by pale washed-out synths and softened drums. Everything is pillowy, pastel, and cotton-candy-light as Lindgren’s voice glides in and out of these states of ennui. It’s the disrupters—the shards of a memory or rush of emotion—that LÉON uses to change the pace of the album’s narratives.
In the opening track, “Dancer,” LÉON speaks in platitudes. She doesn’t quite name a feeling, but she chases her love until it’s her “evening sky” and her “morning dove.” But these big declarations of fatal attraction feel tepid. She’s cresting a wave without a crash, and instead, falls back into a pattern and rhythm. Lindgren’s soft harmonies shimmer rather than shine; the song is warm and glowing instead of bright and blinding like the lyrics would suggest.
Second single “Soaked” takes the same approach to more fulfilling results. Powered by an eighties drum pulse and crystal guitar lines straight from a New Order song, it develops a sense of urgency and propulsion that comes closer to matching her cinematic tone. The best moment of the track is a subtle one, a gentle but evocative harmony leading into the second chorus. LÉON is at her best when she gives in to the lightness of her sound, letting her voice be the guiding emotive force.
On another album highlight, “All My Heroes,” LÉON awakens from her typical daze when she recognizes her own behavior in a destructive partner. She is anxious and uncomfortable, and while her take on mortality aren’t nuanced, (“All my heroes are dead / And I don’t believe in god”) it does reflect a newfound vulnerability. It’s a bit darker than the rest of the album’s idealistic pursuit of the rush and more memorable because of its juxtaposition of passivity and paranoia.
By the end of Circles, LÉON’s listless staring and waiting grows lukewarm. Her turns-of-phrase (“Grew up in a hurry / Like I had somewhere to be / Just know I had to run so fast / But it got hard to breathe”) lose their novelty. “The Beach” aims for a high stakes emotional finale, but it’s diluted in big-room synths and cinematic flourish. It’s like reading a diary entry from a decade ago—the emotions are present in name but they’re sepia-tinged and distant in practice.
LÉON doesn’t quite reach the physical or emotional highs of some of her Swedish peers in the pop realm. That said, Circles seems quite happy to stay on the ground. Its gentleness and smoothness make it a safe listen. LÉON eschews a self-destructive night out in favor of something more comfortable. While not as exhilarating, it’s certainly fitting for a day in.
Circles is out now.