(The Control Group, 2013)
From the opening track of Alexander von Mehren’s debut Aéropop, you can tell where the album name comes from. The music bursts forth in a sort of bubbly, nonchalant optimism. For a musician in the early stages of his career, von Mehren certainly knows how to grab the attention of his listener; no tentative first steps here, he jumps right into the catchy, pop-oriented melody. OK, we’re off to a good start.
Once the first song is off the ground, von Mehren is eager to prove his musical chops, showcasing his skills with a wide range of instruments from violin, piano, and guitar to woodwinds and synthesizer. The opening track translates to “Shower Song,” and it does sound like a tune that somebody would throw together absent-mindedly when showering. There’s a smattering of vocals, and then for a while there’s just a sweeping instrumental melody, as if the singer has forgotten the words and is just humming the catchy tune to himself with unbridled enthusiasm.
Aéropop sounds very distinctly European in its stylings, and that makes total sense since von Mehren’s from Norway. It features synth noises that went out of style in the United States in the mid-1980s, along with a heavy slant toward accordion and violin, and a seemingly random shifting between vocal and instrumental tracks, which can be a bit off-putting if you’re not prepared for it. (Fortunately, this wasn’t a problem listening to it a second time.) This, combined with von Mehren’s incredible eagerness to prove his musicality and songwriting skills, made listening to Aéropop all the way through something of a chore for me, as an American listener. Yes, a wide range of instruments is a good thing, but not if they’re only used to prove that you have a wide range of instruments. And so we come to the heart of Aéropop’s problem.
The central fault of the album is … that it has no center. Von Mehren has a unique and creative ear for music, but in this first outing, he puts that ear to use with no goal other than to prove his creativity. The artist certainly has potential, but this debut album has nothing interesting to say. Perhaps that isn’t a pre-requisite for a good album; but to me, a good work of art is only worth the sum of its deeper meanings; the presentation is almost even superfluous (I said almost, don’t send me hate mail). Halfway through the album, I realized that I was just being assaulted by one bombastic multi-instrumental fast-paced jam after another, with no time taken by the artist to recollect his thoughts or measure his actions. Many great albums in the past have gotten away with no central theme, but von Mehren’s songs don’t have enough variety to keep his listeners interested for the length of a full album.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things that von Mehren gets right. Listening to only one or two songs at a time could be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The opening track by itself is very light, casual pop which I could see myself putting on a CD that reads “BEACH PARTY MIX 4-EVAR!” on it, or something to that affect. The musical arrangements and the transitions between songs are creative and fun; none of it is really bad per-se, it just wants something … more.
I appreciate Alexander von Mehren’s skill and his innate musical talent (it’s the kind you can’t teach), but Aéropop is exactly what the title suggests: entertaining fluff. Try living on nothing but cotton candy for a week and you’ll catch my drift, it simply doesn’t work. Natural talent and cute tricks are well and good, but without substance, they will only take you so far. I look forward to hearing future releases from von Mehren, in the hopes that his next work will have something more to say than simply “look at me!!!”