Release Date: Aug 7, 2015
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Pop, Electronic, Pop/Rock, Left-Field Pop
Head here to submit your own review of this album. There's something utterly euphoric about the latest mini album from Robyn, Love Is Free that stretches far beyond the thumping acid house beats and arms-aloft shimmering synth lines. The reigning queen of Swedish pop has made a career out of cathartic pop songs; tracks loaded with pathos that will see you dancing through the tears.
Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique (the trio comprises producer Christian Falk and keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Markus Jägerstedt) begin their new EP (they call it a "Mini-Mix"), Love is Free, with some fuzzed-out, reversed keyboard stabs and a chorus that goes: "You don't like what you can't control / If you can't control it, you just don't like it. " It's a catchy, pulsing admonition to some unknown oppressor, and a rallying cry for fans, setting the theme of sexual, physical and mental liberation early. It's also the perfect dance floor-filler.
On last year's collaboration with Röyksopp, Do It Again, and 2010's Body Talk, Robyn made the dance floor her therapy couch, singing of breakups, feeling like a broken cyborg, and all the shit that was killing her over addictive electro-pop. It's exactly this bruised-but-headstrong expertise, built up over two decades as a writer and performer, that imbues Robyn's music with a sort of welcoming trust. So, when she takes a step back in the thumping opening track of Love Is Free, "Lose Control", to say, "Hey, tell me all about your mistakes/ Tell me 'bout the love and the pain/ I know somebody hurt you some way," you might believe her and give it all up.
After her ambitious Body Talk project -- which began as a series of EPs before some of its tracks were collected on an album -- Robyn concentrated on short releases that allowed her to work with a wide range of collaborators and explore different aspects of her multifaceted sound. 2014's Do It Again found her reuniting with her old friends Röyksopp on a handful of sleek yet sugary electro-pop tracks, and for Love Is Free, she teams up with longtime keyboardist Markus Jägerstedt and producer Christian Falk as La Bagatelle Magique to delve into the sounds of '80s and '90s dance. The EP's title track is a driving house workout that captures the genre's heyday so well that it's hard to believe it's not a couple of decades older than it actually is, while "Got to Work It Out" gives the era's vocoder and filtered synths a slightly more modern twist.
If there's a distinguishing feature that differentiates Robyn's Love Is Free, a collaboration with keyboardist Markus Jägerstedt and the late Swedish producer Christian Falk, from both last year's Do It Again and 2010's Body Talk EPs, it's that the songs on the singer's latest mini-album take a decidedly more purist approach to the retro stylings that were hinted at in her previous work. Whether it's lead single “Love Is Free,” a clattering acid-house mash-up of hiccupping synths, digitized cowbell, and insistent bass (even guest artist Maluca' rap, which includes a reference to “safe like a rubber,” is charmingly antiquated), the Italo-disco “Got to Work It Out,” or a cover of Loose Joints' “Tell You (Today),” the five tracks here allow Robyn to dip more directly into her influences than ever before. Lyrically, the songs are more celebratory and anthemic than the dourer, more lovelorn material that's made Robyn a cult favorite in recent years.
After the blow-out of 2010’s Body Talk trilogy, Robyn returned to her native Sweden to recuperate, only breaking her writer’s block three years later when she began working with veteran DJ Christian Falk and regular collaborator Markus Jägerstedt. Although Falk sadly died last summer, the results of their collaboration have finally surfaced on this five-track mini-album. Despite the shadow of tragedy hanging over the project, there’s an irrepressible euphoria to the music throughout, best evidenced by house-influenced, floor-filling recent single Love Is Free.
Know how they say to never go food shopping when you’re hungry? Well, never overhype everything a great artist releases while you’re waiting on a proper follow-up. It’s been five years since the release of Robyn’s 2010 masterwork, Body Talk, a surprising consensus for the best pop record of our time — not surprising in its quality, just surprising that there’s a consensus — though Body Talk itself was the distillation of three excellent EPs. (One could argue a little too distilled, since “Include Me Out” and “Cry When You Get Older” would’ve made the album even better.
For the last decade, everyone in the music world has been talking about how listeners pay for records, how they listen to music, and how artists can make a living. But artists like Robyn are raising an even more interesting question: Why do we continue to tie music to physical media when it’s all online now? The length of an “album” was originally determined by how much space the format offered, how narrow the space between the vinyl grooves could physically be. This continued with CDs, their production relying on how much surface area could be digitally encoded.
What is the secret to Robyn’s success? In a pop universe overstuffed with talented, fascinating female pop stars, what is it about Robyn that makes her such a perennial favorite among music critics and a discerning audience? It’s not purely a question of quality, although the memorability of superlative tracks like “Call Your Girlfriend” and “Dancing On My Own” cannot be contested. Quantity doesn’t paint the entire picture either — in fact, in the last decade, Robyn has only released one true, full-length record, her 2005 self-titled reinvention. The source of Robyn’s persistent excellence lies rather in her preferred method of distribution — the EP.
One of the reasons Robyn is such a great pop star is the unabashed way she looks to past dance music sounds and trends both mainstream and obscure, and mixes them into her own exuberant style. This five-track EP – a collaboration with keyboardist Markus Jägerstedt and late producer Christian Falk – takes acid house, Italo and weirdo disco and gives them a big-room treatment for 2015. Opener Lose Control flips a relationship quibble into a kind of instantly gratifying dance-floor catharsis, with a bit of Robyn-esque psychoanalysis thrown in for good measure (“If you can’t control it / you just don’t like it”), and the closing cover of Loose Joints’ Tell You (Today) revels in the timeless combination of a dirty disco bass line and a major-key melody.
Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique – Robyn and The Magic Trifle is the rough English butchering – is a bizarre project from some of Sweden’s most vaunted musical entities: Christian Falk, Markus Jägerstedt and Robyn. Love Is Free is their first, and probably only, release. This is mostly due to the fact that Falk, an integral cog, passed away in 2014 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.