Album review: This is....Icona Pop, Icona Pop

By Scott Kara

Heartbreak brought the Swedish pair together but their distinctive sound has turned their lives around.

Swedish duo Icona Pop's debut album is due out at the end of this week.
Swedish duo Icona Pop's debut album is due out at the end of this week.

They're best known for shouting the words "I don't care". Followed by the slightly less shouty, and more endearing, "I love it".

And the song those lyrics come from made Swedish duo Icona Pop - namely Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo - pretty popular when it was released mid last year. They've been riding the wave ever since and not surprisingly, they're loving it, says Hjelt on the phone from hometown Stockholm.

"I think it's really hard to take in what's going on," she says. "It's a crazy whirlwind of a lot of fun stuff, I mean we get the opportunity to travel everywhere, and it's just been great, so we are basically living our dream right now so we couldn't ask for more.

"And I just think we're both trying to go with it, and we're both control freaks but we have a good team around us and we just focus on what we do, which is write songs and keep performing."

The pair are based in New York, but have been back home for a short tour of Sweden and then they're back to the US to do their first headlining tour of the country to coincide with the release of debut album, This Is ... Icona Pop, this week (although a version of the album was released in Sweden last year).

Hjelt and Jawo met at a party in February 2009. They were both in the throes of relationship break-ups, and soon after started making music together.

"It was so weird, that night Aino was heartbroken, but we just felt instantly that we had something special. And we were both open to it because at the time we were both down at the bottom.

"Aino was heartbroken, and nothing was going my way with my music or my love life or anything. So I guess we didn't have anything to lose and we decided the day after that that we should meet up and make some music.

"It is weird but I think you meet a few people in your life time that you have that special connection with."

They started making music without even talking about what sound they were after - and just happened to come up with something that's akin to synth pop dance punk.

"We just started and it felt so good. We just want to make music that makes people feel like they can cry to, dance to, or to feel something to.

"That's the sort of music we love, but then I think when we go into the studio there are no rules. We just go in there, we create our music and then call it our pop music. And we are influenced by everything we listened to growing up."

Though there's nothing uniquely Swedish - like Abba, say - about their music.

"Our melodies might be a little bit Swedish," she says with a laugh.

With sniping lines like, "I threw your shit into a bag and pushed it down the stairs", I Love It is a rabble-rousing, fist-pumping, dancefloor pop anthem, especially when they sing in their dual girl attack.

That duetting style came about by accident when they were running short on time in the recording studio.

"We jumped into the singing booth at the same time and we just started singing into the same microphone and that's when we started with that - and so we just kept recording our vocals into the same microphone."

Hjelt says they would have liked This Is ... Icona Pop to be out a little earlier but given their "insane schedule" since the start of the year, they have had to record it when they can grab time in the studio between gigs.

"But it gave us the time to develop what we have today and make us more sure about what we wanted the album and the sound to be like."

They have evolved since their debut single Manners, a big fun pop tune from 2011, with the new songs taking on a more in-your-face and often serious tone.

"We're constantly developing as an artist, at least I hope we are, otherwise it would be a shame. For me Manners is such a fun song, I love that song and it will always mean so much to me.

"But I think you get so much inspiration from different places, people that you meet, and of course the sound can change a little bit. Like when we moved to London, for example, we got interested in the underground music scene over there. So that's when [party tune] Ready For the Weekend and songs like that came about."

Then there's the chest-beating electro pop of We Got the World and the punkier Then We Kiss, which is a cross between the Strokes and jangly British pop rockers the Primitives.

"We've been feeling really strong together, and we have a clear message we want to put out there, and so we have been doing some more in-your-face songs, but on the album there is a vulnerable side.

"It's very much like reading our diary. It's very personal and people will really get to know us on this album."

Album preview

Who: Swedish duo Icona Pop made up of Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo
What: Electro pop dance punk
Debut album: This Is ... Icona Pop, out Friday, September 20

- NZ Herald

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