The Best Albums of 2014, #12

band0112. Tove Lo, Queen of the Clouds (Universal)

If you know me at all, every year you should expect another new pop discovery from Sweden. I’ll always be a fan of Swedish music, be it pop, electronic , rock, or metal, because the quality level is always so extraordinarily high. The arts in Sweden are not only supported and taught, but nurtured too, and the country’s best musical exports are always creative, vibrant, and in the case of many young artists, extraordinarily mature. The problem has always been winning over fickle audiences in North America, but in the case of Tove Nilsson, who goes by the name Tove Lo, she’s been fortunate enough to get a phenomenal headstart thanks to the surprising success of her single “Habits (Stay High)”. Don’t toss her into that “one-hit wonder category just yet, either, because her debut album is an extraordinary first effort. In fact it’s a bit of a concept album, divided into three sections: sex, love, and desire, chronicling a relationship from infatuation to bitter breakup. The arc works so well too. There are fireworks at first, “Timebomb” feeling dazzling and joyous (“You made your way in as I was leaving / You cut in line just as I was getting my stuff / And I couldn’t decide if you were the most annoying / Human being I ever met / Or just the best thing that ever happened”), and “Talking Body” frank, explicit, and devoted. The middle section shows vulnerability and optimism, “Moments” displaying great likeability (“On good days I’m charming as fuck”), “Got Love” shamelessly happy, while the wistfulness of “Not on Drugs” foreshadows the misery ahead (“I’m not on drugs / I’m just in love / You’re high enough for me”). Of course, it all falls apart and comes to a crashing, devastating denouement on the aforementioned “Habits”, and ends on a bleak, uncertain note on “This Time Around”. It’s not anything revolutionary, but it’s done with such sincerity and charisma, Tove’s lyrical wit and affable personalitymaking it all work. Overall, Queen of the Clouds feels like a cross between Sweden’s to greatest women singer-songwriters at the moment – Robyn and Lykke Li – and bolstered by some shimmering yet robust production that feels closely related to the genius of fellow Swede Max Martin, it all makes this album a resounding success.