by Nick McGuire (@nickemcguire)
“Asktell,” the first song on Won, begins with dark guitar strings before Lina Tullgren casts out a sharp response to something we will never hear: “not even you could tell me much… I am all the wiser now that I accept my fate.” Drums drip in with a simple beat, but it is her voice that, rightfully take center stage, singing rhythmically intricate lyrics that spare with her guitar lines, could appear on any Modest Mouse album. She sounds both emotional and too far removed to even know what she’s talking about. She continues talking into the void, describing sensations and arguments with this person. “I’m the only one who ever really knew you at all,” she sings, like she’s looking back as she drives away. She’s remembering, but that won’t stop her from moving on.
After last year’s debut EP, Wishlist, with its lo-fi basement treatment of songs, it’s expected that a full LP would show musical and production change. Captured Tracks historically finds some of the best indie artists, and Won deserves to be in that crowd. It has the rhythmic savvy of each song using similar instruments yet sounding so different. The instrumentation is sparse, consisting of heavy synths, drums, guitar, with a few extras here and there. And yet, its scant resources are what causes re-listening. Instead of overdoing it musically, Tullgren crafts imaginative rifts and melodies on a few instruments. As she said in an interview with Atwood Magazine, “The full band intention was always there from the minute I started the project.” She knows her limits and crafts beautiful songs within them.
Won is an album of growth. It could be categorized as a break-up album—It has all the characteristics: songs about “you,” discussing change and flaws, and giving great anaphoras on love (“love is liking getting stuck in the mud / and you don’t know where” on “Perfect” is a beast of an outro). But that would sell Tullgren short of her focus. It’s an album about change as she finishes relationships and events, yet no one really wins. Listen to “Face Off”—an incredible standout—with it’s hypnotic, marching beat when she sings, “Mom’s on the island, Dad’s up north, growing insane / how do you find a home, when your home won’t leave you alone?” Everywhere on this record, Tullgren looks outward as she tries to find a place to fit, slipping off her past selves. Even the cover art, which depicts a hand pulling a heavy piece of cloth out of Tullgren’s mouth, suggests expulsion.
“Fate,” with its mumbling background horns and strings, is one of the slowest songs, and yet may be the strongest. It’s also the only song with an acoustic guitar, which trails along with her voice as she haunts her old life: “Childhood ends and I’m alone again / why would anyone want friends.” Those last lyrics cause the song to almost fall apart, a quick breakdown occurring before she pulls back, the beat returns, and delivers “I wish I believed in fate.” Shivers. Fans of Tullgren’s earlier work are likely to find plenty to enjoy, as this one is a solid step forward. In the familiar landscape of indie rock, Tullgren proves herself different and expansive, and she only has room to grow.