Like her most famous band the Cardigans, Nina Persson is rarely what she seems. Internationally successful via deceptively perky hits like "Lovefool," this NYC-based Swede twists buoyant melodies with bitter love ruminations, blurring the battle lines between mainstream and indie, classic rock and revisionist pop, singer-songwriter introspection and frontwoman glamour. Originally conceived as a collaboration with Niclas Frisk of Swedish rock band Atomic Swing, her 2001 side project A Camp moved subsequent Cardigans output in a quieter, darker direction that alienated some fans beyond Sweden's borders but considerably expanded the quintet's scope.
With the Cardigans now on sabbatical, she rejoins Frisk for an expanded A Camp that now includes her hubby, ex-Shudder to Think guitarist Nathan Larson. Larson also brings his experience as a soundtrack composer (Boys Don't Cry, Palindromes, Choke) to the proceedings, making for an album that's thick with atmosphere and smoky instrumentation courtesy of former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha, Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous, Joan As Police Woman's Joan Wasser and other well-picked players. "The Crowning"' opens gently with toy piano chords before building in splendor to celebrate the coronation of another worthless leader. It's a wry commentary on the allure of excess made by pop insiders who've retained the mystery of music on the margins. "I like to end what I started," she sings of marriage and record company contracts on "I Signed the Line," twisting figures of speech as Elvis Costello might while waltzing muted trumpets somberly evoke beloved Burt Bacharach oldies. This is a subtle, sustained work packed with complications that hide behind a blindingly beautiful surface — a metaphor for Persson herself.