Recording information: Lighthouse Studios, Berlin (2014-2015).
Molly Nilsson has carved out a career as a resolutely independent artist with a D.I.Y. streak a mile wide and that doesn't change on her sixth album, Zenith. She still records her melodic and gloomy synth pop by herself, releases it on her own label (with help from the like-minded Night School), and comes up with a sound that is influenced by lots of synth pop past and present but has an idiosyncratic nature that makes it hers. This time out, the sound she gets is a little more expansive and a little more produced, and feels like she's making music for, if not the masses, then more than her dedicated fan base alone. Songs like the luminous "1995" and the loping reggae-ish "Lovers Are Losers" sound like they could be pop hits, "Happyness" comes close to Sally Shapiro-style Euro-disco, and a bunch more have a much more outward-looking approach than she's exhibited in the past. She even ends the album with the majestic ballad "Tomorrow," a time-honored tradition of the pop idiom. Overall, her voice might be up a little more in the mix, the drums maybe have more snap, the synths are less wobbly; it's subtle, but this is as close as Nilsson will likely get to the synth pop mainstream. She does it without sacrificing her moody, lyrical viewpoint or changing her voice, either of which would have been a disaster. Hearing her detached, yet oddly affecting, deadpan vocals floating among the perfectly placed synths is something that never gets old; digging deep into the lyrics is rewarding for connoisseurs of deep melancholy. And there is plenty of that to be found along with the almost sunny moments. Nilsson has been making very promising music for a long time and Zenith is the moment when it all comes together. She's made an album that, if it had come out in 1985, everyone would be hailing as genius. In 2015, it's not too far from that anyway. ~ Tim Sendra