4am is a great time to listen to music. Some of my best listening experiences have come from lying in bed, headphones in, letting the dark and my tired imagination twist the music I love into new, weird forms. Gothenburg’s Navelin play a kind of ethereal indie/electro rock that’s perfectly suited to this particular listening environment. Their music on debut EP Side One is dreamy, sure, but it’s also restless, yearning and hopeful. You could describe them as dream pop but that’s missing the point; this is insomnia pop- music that’s heavy-lidded but wide awake, familiar yet striving to be something more. It still fits well within the definition of pop music in 2015, but Navelin have made an EP that is, on its own small, unassuming terms, a real triumph.
Opening track and first singe ‘Shake It Off’ is the strongest track the band have written thus far. Built around familiar chord sequences and vocal lines, the tune still sounds fresh thanks to the mix of sounds in the band’s arsenal, from the stuttering keyboards in the intro to a mournful ebow in the chorus and synth lines that rise and fall continuously, wrapping themselves around Elin Johansson’s delicate, intimate voice like swirling mist. Extra nuances like new minor chords on the second verse and an ever-changing chorus melody reward repeat listens and the extended instrumental bridge allows the full band to flex their muscles as they ride the swell of glimmering electronics and percussion to a final, melancholy chorus. There’s a real warmth to the track, but the weird, vaguely hallucinatory imagery of the lyrics lends it just a hint of darkness, and it’s in that sweet spot between the familiar and the unknown that Navelin really shines.
‘Daydream’ has a sweet, lilting verse and a bigger, brighter chorus hook than the preceding track, but the airy, un-tethered bridge teeters between blissful and slightly creepy, its echo laden chords not quite resolving when you want them to. ‘Maple Train’ is intensely rhythmic and full of longing, like being stuck on a long overnight journey waiting for morning, the keyboard and guitar lines flickering like half glimpsed city lights reflected in the window. Navelin are masters of these kinds of moods, where weariness and yearning are made into something beautiful.
Their press release paints the band as successors to Joy Division and Slowdive but on a like-for-like basis I’d say the closest comparison is Metric. Side One shares the Canadian band’s use of precise hooks and strong melodies, fleshed out by U2-esque guitar effects and vintage electronics. Johansson’s voice has some of the same world-weary sigh that Emily Haines uses on Metric’s softer songs, but none of the bite or cynicism. Their overall approach is gentler and subtler- trading out the dancey rhythms from Synthetica and Fantasies in favour of atmosphere and vulnerability. Even so, there are moments in ‘Maple Train’ and ‘Our World Is Yours’ that could fit onto either of the two aforementioned albums and you’d never know it was a different band, and while that doesn’t make them bad songs, it’s probably not what the band were aiming for. A bit of overlap with your influences and peers is entirely expected and forgivable for a debut EP and Navelin do succeed in fully realising their own voice on ‘Old Radio’, an intriguing, oddly structured slow burner about being totally still and absorbing the sounds of life around you. The hushed instrumentation fades in and out according to no particular pattern, as if switching between different radio stations, but the vocals remain utterly gorgeous throughout. It’s a bold departure that shows a level of self-awareness unusual in bands as young as Navelin, and it demonstrates that they know how to play around with pop conventions and still make memorable songs.
I’m a little bit torn as to what I want to see Navelin do in the future. On the one hand it would be good to see them push the weirder aspects of their sound a bit more and come up with something darker and more experimental. I bet they’re capable of rocking out a lot more than this, too. Equally though if when Side Two rolls out next year it’s just another set of finely crafted, emotive songs like this one then I won’t be disappointed. Wherever this clever, thoughtful band go next, whatever else they accomplish, the bottom line is that these five songs will be stuck in your head for days after you hear them, and Side One will make the perfect soundtrack to your next sleepless night.