Fun, Fizzy Pop From Sweden

What's MTV?

There must be something in the waters of Sweden that makes native bands able to craft such oddly catchy pop tunes.

Look at Abba, Ace of Base, the Cardigans, and now Komeda. What Makes It Go? is overflowing with bubbly pop that hearkens back to the early days of MTV, when outlooks were positive, hair was big and clothes had lots of zippers on them.

From the very first programmed beats of "Binario," it's obvious that this is a band that likes technology. Any kind of technology: drum machines, cheesy-sounding old synthesizers, strange guitar effects, even that weird thing that makes a voice sound like the robot on "Buck Rogers."

Much to the band's credit, they don't end up sounding bloodless or sterile, like so many other neo-synth pop bands. With Komeda, you can hear the ghost inside the machine -- there is an obvious and beautiful touch of humanity to every note on the record.

In many ways, What Makes It Go? is a tribute to the future. The pseudo high-tech-sounding synthesizer effects bring to mind futures past. These are the sounds that the swinging lounge lizards of the '70s envisioned themselves drinking fluorescent cocktails to in some small bar on the moon's surface around the year 2001. The minute-and-a-half-long electronic interlude "Living Things" is a pulsating cauldron of synthetic bleeps and bloops that bubbles around a computer-generated beat.

But the band's humanism hearkens back to the bell-bottoms and free love of the '60s. When vocalist Lena Karlsson delivers the words to "Curious" in a voice that is equal parts seductress and child-like innocent, it's hard to miss the band's message. "Don't be shy, say goodbye to your inhibitions/ Feel all right, take a chance it's your submission/ It's not a question of time because all that matters is love."

There are all sorts of strange influences present on What Makes It Go?. While "Focus" has that sort of carefree experimentalism reminiscent of a late-period Beatles album, "Binario" exhibits the lush orchestrations and pulsing keyboard runs of a good Blondie tune. The opening to "Flabbergast" almost captures the campiness of Devo (even if the band is not nearly as precise). And, of course, being a pop band from Sweden, they do sound more than a little like Abba.

At times this band comes across as a little too ecstatic. The electronic squawks and whistles on "Our Hospitality" accompany a chord progression and vocal doo-wop that is almost sickeningly happy and "Happyment" sounds a bit like the background music for a Mentos commercial. I'm not sure what's going on in Sweden, but this album leads me to believe that the country is some kind of a fantasy land with cotton-candy clouds and peppermint sidewalks.

The strange thing about Swedish bands like Komeda and the Cardigans is that they approach what we here in America tend to think of as kitsch or camp from this really ironic angle. Komeda revel in our concept of corniness, demonstrating that, cynicism aside, if you're into cheese, you can make it work for you.