Like many of us, Eric Berglund, aka CEO, is stuck on childhood: The former vocalist of Gothenburg duo the Tough Alliance is now in his early 30s, yet still sings in a distinctly pre-pubescent whine. Many of his melodies recall kindergarten sing-alongs; his lyrics similarly suggest nursery rhymes, albeit ones, like “No Mercy,” that contemplate smoking crack. The catalog of his label, Sincerely Yours, which includes limited-edition music and apparel items like bulletproof vests, is numbered with the obsessiveness of an elementary student newly proud of his ability to create lists. Through it all, there’s a vibe, sometimes overt, sometimes less tangible but nevertheless felt, of aiming to heal what recovery programs identify as the child within.
If that strikes you as new-age corn, brace yourself, for on WONDERLAND, Berglund’s second solo album — the first all-caps release from a guy previously obsessed with the subtler lower case — that childlike vibe gets cranked to 11. Everywhere there are the voices of tykes, some sung and rapped, some extensively sampled, and some approximated by Berglund himself. Produced by former Studio member Dan Lissvik and fellow Sincerely Yours act Kendal Johansson, who also contributes instrumentation, this record of emotional and musical extremes alternately suggests Animal Collective’s squawking Centipede Hz, syrupy Enya jams or, most often, a foolhardy mashup of both.
It all starts promisingly with “WHOREHOUSE,” by far the set’s catchiest and most fully realized track. Skipping on giddy triplets and festooned with sampled shouts and giggles throughout, this luminous dance track contrasts sharply with Berglund’s grim lyrics about being trapped inside a capitalist system of self-exploitation. As its title suggests, the similarly gaudy near-instrumental “HARIKIRI” sacrifices momentum gained with sampled chatter, aimless synth squiggles, and quasi-classical filigree.
The rest follows in jumbled repetitions that rarely coalesce into actual songs. At eight cuts totaling less than 34 minutes, this lopsided WONDERLAND frustrates not because of length (it’s actually longer than most of Sincerely Yours’ best records), but because it’s sonically overstuffed yet compositionally undercooked. By letting his inner child run rampant, Berglund switched off a key element of any artist — his adult judgment.