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Sweden’s The Mary Onettes write the kind of music you would expect to find on the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie: pop songs with a slightly epic curvature, bittersweet and kissed by the early ’80s output of acts like Echo and the Bunnymen and The Cure. Although the band formed in 2000 in the town of Jönköping, it wasn’t until 2004 that they began to gain some traction, earning a major label deal in their native country. The following two years followed the sad (yet not uncommon) trope of label mismanagement. The band recorded material their label wouldn’t publish; they were finally released from their contract; another label picked them up, put out an EP, and then dropped them again. Fortunately for all of us, the band recorded their first LP in 2006 on their own and the album was subsequently picked up by indie-pop powerhouse Labrador Records, which has provided a happy home for the band ever since.
On November 4th, The Mary Onettes will release Island, their sophomore LP, from which “Puzzles” is culled. Beginning with a brooding bit of atmospherics, the song quickly surrenders to a strident drum beat and a wash of synthesizers and guitars. A pizzicato melody, pointed and melancholic, leads in to one of the band’s main draws, namely Philip Ekström’s magnetic vocals. Ekström’s timbre and unforced delivery possess phenomenally complex tones that make nearly everything he sings sound emotionally potent. “Puzzles” boasts a chorus as elegant as it is confounding; “I know it hasn’t been the best year, so let’s be numb” is sung against a deceptively jubilant flush of synthesized strings. As the song floats to its conclusion, those strings reappear in a beautifully composed coda which serves to tie together the entire track with finesse and a proper sense of closure.
As The Mary Onettes continue to release gems like “Puzzles,” it’s only a matter of time before their share of fans hits more of a critical mass. They write excellent music and, just as importantly, make everything they do sound effortless.