ceo - Wonderland

Swedish electronic project ceo returns with grandiose electro-pop that strikes a balance between playful flourishes and dark edges.

Additional Info

7.9

ALBUM: Wonderland

ARTIST: ceo

2014

Electronic

ceo is the perfect name for a solo project, since it connotes the feeling of being central to creative visions and decisions, as denoted by the corporate acronym. Under this name, Swedish musician Eric Berglund lets his pop visionary shine past the shadow of his late musical project, the highly-acclaimed duo Tough Alliance. In an interview about the apparent death of the group, Berglund explained that he and his bandmate were like “teammates in a football team,” and nothing more than that. So while they worked well as musicians together, they were completely fine working alone. Having accepted this, he went on to head his own solo project ceo, the name purposely kept in lower case, and released his first record “White Magic.” Four years later, he has come back with a record just as understatedly grandiose but with a darker tone than before. If White Magic was the day aspect, then Wonderland is the night. This sophomore record forays into wispy tropically-inflected electro-pop with enough edge to keep it afloat. Though he strikes a wonderful balance between poppy playfulness and darker introspection, there is more than a couple times where innovative ideas are cut short or fall flat that leaves you wishing for more. But in its good moments, it’s really good.

The record finds its novelty in the ebb and flow of poppy vocal-driven tracks and musical interludes interspersed in between, which creates an interesting balance between driving beats and infectious melodies on the one hand and wistful atmosphere and lush production on the other. Starting with “Whorehouse,” we get to see right away that Berglund excels at writing good pop music. Layers of synths and beats are proportioned just right, and Berglund contributes his charmingly sweet vocals to one of the catchiest melodies of all time. As we reach the next track “Harakiri,” the slow build of the first is released. If the first track was like going on a jog, then this next one is like floating down a stream. The beats are relaxed, so synth washes that border on magical are given the forefront, with this vocal flourishes in the background. And this cycle of alternation continues for the rest of the record.

One of the best things about this is that it creates distinct highs and lows in emotion and energy. It really makes you feel like you’re in some sort of alternate reality, a wonderland if the name of the record holds true. Right when you settle into a certain groove, it gets switched up, keeping you on your toes. The downside to this sonic roller coaster is that the tracks on the ‘low’ end of the spectrum often fall flat or are underdeveloped. Since they’re like instrumental interludes, they’re usually only around 2 minutes long and employ only one novel idea that’s repeated endlessly. It’s clear that Berglund works so much better with longer tracks, where he’s free to layer and layer musically to create a satisfying build. On the other hand, these shorter tracks often have wonderful ideas, but given the short amount of time they’re given, they wear on to no satisfying conclusion and pale in comparison to the ‘highs’ on the spectrum of the record.

Despite the shortcomings of these few tracks, his orchestrations possess a magic quality by riding a fresh line between EDM and introspective pop music. His lush vocals, ranging from a high falsetto to a gentle permutation of the mid-range, tell the story of love and loss in the context of the transfixing and mystifying culture of the night that his soundscapes convey incredibly well. Tropical synthesizers are used in varying ways to create a sense of playfulness and moodiness that inflect the mood well. What brings the record to a level of cool is the production and samples he employs. Berglund adds to the mix of synths and beats vocal sound effects that sound oddly animalistic, giving the feel of a wild party that grounds his music in the EDM territory. This is also recalled in the cascading synth lines that soar to amazing heights. The balance he strikes between serious musicianship and pure fun is one that makes the record keep up with dream pop contemporaries. Despite the shortcoming that lead its full potential astray, Wonderland is a lush record that holds its own in this pop-saturated world.

“When you say love/I see a mirage”

1. Whorehouse
This track sets the driving yet lush pace for the rest of the record. Tropical waves of synth are soon joined by grounded beats reminiscent of Kanye’s “Black Skinhead.” Overall, it follows the tried and true pop structure, wonderfully executed with Berglund’s gentle but transfixing vocal prowess. Little flourishes like childlike vocals effects after the chorus make a song about a darker subject all the more playful. And it has the kind of melody that you’ll find yourself humming days later.8.5
2. Harakiri
This beautiful synth-driven instrumental interlude borders on symphonic, the perfect dreamy cool-down after the heavy beats of “Whorehouse.” Berglund features his soaring falsetto in a run of “Oooohs” and some samples of film dialogue even make an appearance. While it’s a wonderful idea initially, its fall to repetition wears out the novelty of the track’s unique parts. It’d sound better placed in a film than as a stand-alone track.7.5
3. Mirage
Cascading tropical synths mark a return to the full-out pop structures of the first track. This one definitely has a creepier vibe, solidified by the cacophony of animalistic vocals that crowd the soundscape. The lead vocals subtly build in intensity, especially by the end of the chorus. Even though he still sings in his wispy falsetto, we feel the emotional high he’s clearly feeling in this track. The track as a whole mimics the feeling of a musical mirage, with rainbow ripple of synth atmosphere cascading throughout.8.5
4. In a Bubble On a Stream
In a word, this track is sultry. Moody piano evolves into some swirling synths, with his vocals providing some dreamy sighs. As an interlude, it’s great, but it’s too underdeveloped as an idea to feel like a complete stand-alone track.7.0
5. Wonderland
With its driving beat and playfulness, this track recalls “Whorehouse” once again. It finds strength in the many distinct layers to the song. Child-like laughing in the background accompanies Berglund’s vocals, which dissolves into a tinny keyboard line like something you’d hear in a more EDM-leaning song. The lower vocals on the other side are like nothing we’ve heard yet before on this record, and the breakdown following fades out slowly in a jubilant and catchy repeated lyric. As the longest track on the record, it’s clear that Berglund works well in larger time-scapes.9.0
6. Juju
Another dreamily atmospheric interlude, this one has a lot more “oooooooh” bits and dialogue samples. It’s almost haunting that we hear a sample of a distressed-sounding woman couched in reverb echoing away as the music still drives on with optimistic dreaminess. Here we get that this wonderland he’s created isn’t entirely happy, but unfortunately a good idea is once again cut too short and dissolves into repetition.7.5
7. Ultrakaos
With so many songs on this record built on repetition, it statistically stood in danger of falling flat as the others have done. However, this one is much more compelling than the rest because it changes up just often enough. A long intro with electronic percussion builds up a “Yeah baby!” that marks the switch into a brilliant poppy number. Many single words are repeated and even merged together to create some awesome sounding layers of cacophony. The bright quality falls flat a little by the end, but it’s other innovations redeem it in the long run.8.0
8. OMG
As a closer to the album, this one has a very interesting feel. A disorienting cacophony of sound is eventually punctuated by cool beats, which signal its turn into a mid-tempo poppy number that almost has an R&B/hip hop vibe. Jungle-esque yelps are especially present by the middle, and they eventually dissolve into a lush and dreamy vocal section that gradually fades out. Composition-wise, it’s very peculiar, but at least it ends in a peaceful manner.7.5
Written by Hailey Simpson
Now attending college at UC Berkeley, Hailey's main passions in life are attending every concert she possibly can while keeping up with her studies, drinking copious amounts of Philz Coffee, and spinning tunes on her college radio station KALX.



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