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Album Review: Urban Cone, ‘Polaroid Memories’

Urban Cone -- Polaroid Memories album cover
Astralwerks

There’s something to be said for being able to make music so polished that no single sound stands out from the whole. In this regard, pop music that’s crafted for maximum mass appeal can come to resemble a sculpture made from materials sanded down into utter perfection. Clearly, the public has an enduring appetite for this type of sound; its engineered unobtrusiveness perhaps a reassurance of reliability, its pristine form conveying a subliminal sense of safety within our broader awareness that life is always endangered by chaos.

But too much perfection has a disturbing quality of its own. Of course, the most-skilled pop artists know this. One need not dig too long through the most beloved songs of all time to find examples where uncertainty and despair have been packaged within what appears to be innocuous sonic architecture.

Likewise, the shadow of real life looms large over Polaroid Memories, the new sophomore album by Swedish quintet Urban Cone. Especially in its latter third, in a three-song stretch that consists of the songs “Sadness Disease,” “It’s Hard to Hate Someone You Love” and “Never Gonna See You Again, Polaroid Memories succeeds in marrying genuine pathos with ultra-bright synth pop.

Indeed, it would be hard to think of a rousing singalong anthem loaded with more stark real-life implications than, “It’s hard to hate someone you love.” And the brooding, almost dirge-like keyboard swells that drive “Never Gonna See You Again” are guaranteed to soundtrack the despair of breaking up for anyone who happens to fall into this album’s path. You just can’t make music that connects with people if your intention is to be superficial, and if the surface of Polaroid Memories gleams with polish, Urban Cone prove themselves to be the musical equivalent of marble cutters.

In other words, this music may be smooth to the (metaphorical) touch, but take a good look and the details remain as defiantly resistant to perfection or control as the unpredictability of life itself.

Watch Tove Lo + Urban Cone Perform ‘Come Back to Me’ at SXSW

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