Ellinor Sterner Bonander, artistically known as Bonander, is a singer and producer from Sweden. Bonander has successfully built a reputation of being mysterious and illustrative with previous singles such as “Backseat,” “Annie,” and “Then I Die” creating ample anticipation for her debut album “Things We Don’t Talk About” releasing September 10th. With intrigue and hope of knowledge from other artists emerging from the label Icons Creating Evil Art, I jumped into the album asking: 1. Will the album live up to its expectation? 2. Is it interesting? 3. Is it good? Below is a track by track synopsis of “Things We Don’t Talk About” and the answers.
The listener falls into the sea of what “Things We Don’t Talk About” seeks to immerse you completely in with “Never Ask”. The intro track emulates a choral feel, comforting you with the presence of harmony, and perhaps god (if you think God would save you), softly chanting, ‘never ask’, ‘ ‘she had her anger’ and ‘let’s just not talk about it,’ before the last few seconds of the track descends into the darkness that continues the rest of the album. It accurately begins to paint the hues of enigmatic color that
In “Gone in the Wind,” the same chill of a church hymn transforms into an epic production that feels dramatic enough to score a motion picture. Paired with lyrics that highlight emotional, mental wounds can be fitted to each listener uniquely, ‘one day you just weren’t there, gone in the wind…’, almost anyone can relate to feeling abandoned. The instrumental carries along the turmoil heard in the lyrics. The vocals are undoubtedly impressive, howling to unleash pent up emotion, with the duality of octaves auditorily furthering the swell of anger, sadness, resentment all before coming to peace at the end of the track.
Without any context, “Martha” is a mere ballad flooded with raw sentiment. It appears as an open letter, sounds like a plea, warning ‘Martha’ of the harsh realities of the world. The world in question is of course the one we reside in, plagued by war, misogyny and masculinity. The context behind ‘Martha’ demonstrates Bonander’s ability to beautifully execute a story; originally the protagonist in “Lay Down Your Arms!” by Bertha von Suttner, Martha valiantly advocates for peace in a world driven and dominated by men and their lust for war and power. Towards the end of the track, there are subtle horns, providing symbolization of war, a win or defeat. Her own experience with war has been mourning, fear, and grief, ultimately leading to her pacifist stance. Bonander reflects this commentary skillfully, even leaving room for interpretation. As a woman myself, the world is widely still reflective of the one Martha was a part of, and the ‘wars’ come in a variety of sizes. I think anyone, any woman or any individual with a strong relationship to femininity, themselves, their mothers, sisters, friends, will connect to this song’s progressive message.
“Statue” flows in intimately with a stripped feeling. Delicate acoustics, with soft melody and harmonies that accurately depict the imagery that the lyrics visualize as they float around with the instrumental. Lyrically, ‘Statue’ branches off into a few places for meaning, most evident for me is the #MeToo movement and an inherent savior complex. ‘Shouldn’t blame myself for this, but it’s all my fault’, ‘What can I do? He’s got a hold on me.’ and ‘What can I do, When everyone falls apart?’ The song feels like a unifit glove that can fit the hand of any victim, reflecting abuse of power, feelings of guilt (in a social climate where victims are told “they were asking for it”), and the insatiable urge of others to help ‘fix’ the pain and grief of their loved ones.
“Ms. Mitchell” comes in and spreads magic around. Synth, electronics, and drums make this song really feel like you’re somewhere not of this Earth. Bonander’s inspiration came from Maria Mitchell, a female astronomer of the 19th century who discovered a comet which earned her a gold medal prize and was named “Miss Mitchell’s Comet” after her. The ambience of this track transports you into a rocketship headfast exploring space. The strings make you feel uniquely exploritive, lyrically, you fill with wonder and on the precipice of discovery much like Miss Mitchell. It finishes with a drifting, weightless, lost in space feeling, heading off into the unknown.
As we grow older we reminisce on our childhoods, with a shimmery, melancholic instrumental, “Backseat” forces us on a walk of reflection. The lyrics describe a particular feeling I haven’t experienced in a long time, when you would fall asleep as a child and be carried in the arms of loved ones. That warm, familiar feeling as we’ve gotten older that fades away. As the lyrics develop nostalgia, the instrumental continues to build further, still though with a lullaby resemblant melody emerging even more nostalgia. At the end of the song, Bonander reverts to Swedish, her mother language, her first language, which furthers the concept of childhood memory, the yearn for past and comfort.
Following the nostalgic air of “Backseat” is “Slumber Love” which seems to stem from the same vein, reminiscent and yearning. Familial relationships can be some of the most difficult in life to have and maintain, “Slumber Love’ touches on that difficulty and the desire to be siblings, or a family, as it once was. It’s gracefully surrounded by floating pads and a steady percussion that could be compared to a heartbeat which, when it comes to family, is what connects us all together.
Settling back into a common theme throughout “Things We Don’t Talk About” is “Annie” titled after popular conservative superstar Annie Oakley. Strong women and social, political commentary is popular within this album by the time we hear this track. Annie Oakley is indeed a strong woman as an American Sharpshooter setting insane records in both her young and old age. She was also however not a pacifist, unlike Martha, and actively supported the concept of a woman’s draft before it really was a concept back in 1898. Her moral center is a bit ambiguous and this ambiguity is explored with “Annie” by asking her directly ‘what do you aim at?’ and as the album has acknowledged men’s ability to be cruel, Bonander incites women are not entirely innocent with wit in the line, ‘you wear that violent crown, to prove that you’re more than just a gown.’ It’s all wrapped up with signature mystifying sounds that shake your core a bit as if Bonander were asking you the same questions she posed to Annie.
Returning to intimacy, “Then I’m Dead” uses a wistful organ and strings to create an arrangement that’s dynamically heavy and light simultaneously. The use of the organ spreads a depth that feels serious, and a word that can be used throughout the entire album: haunting. Paired with the strings, which themselves sound tearful, a combination of hope and sadness, the final product is a song that evokes harsh reality both instrumentally and lyrically. “Then I’m Dead” focuses on the epitome that is social culture today, keeping up with unattainable demand on social media, it’s after effects, it’s importance and the intricate relationships everyone has with it.
“Mother” reflects back on the religious feeling we witnessed with the intro track, and it’s subject matter is both nostalgic and evocative. Motherhood is a theme that has always been closely related to God. Powerful forces such as nature are even referred to as ‘Mother.’ This particular track positively considers the weight of motherhood and the effects of our mothers within us, ‘every pebble in my shoe, every streak of gold, I know it’s you,’ ‘Mother, how are you doin’? I never seem to know.’ The instrumental itself starts out merely as echoey vocals before introducing a slow beat underneath the professive hymn.
One of my top 3 off of this album is “Silent Lights.” The percussion on this track is interesting, it’s hits staggering, broken. The instrumental itself reminds me of traits heard in jazz, the drums and the use of trumpet. It’s a refreshing addition to the overall production of this album’s use of choir, pads, and synths. The lyrics of “Silent Lights” are as relevant as the earlier track “Then I’m Dead,” focusing on societal pressure to conform while battling the ever present fear of loneliness and grappling with acceptance.
Ending the album is “Ode” which is a stirring, plaintive, piano piece. The intricacies put into the composition of the keys is truthfully moving, it feels almost as if you stumbled into a gothic mansion and witnessed a ghost pour their soul onto a piano covered in cobwebs as they sing about their lost love. ‘Songs are always ‘bout new love, therefore never ‘bout us,’ ‘I never write of what I love, therefore never ‘bout you.’ It’s intimate, close, and as a love song, not lyrically stereotypical but with a different lens. It might be my favorite song on the album apart from Ms. Mitchell.
In the pursuit of answers to the questions, will the album live up to its expectation? Is it interesting? Is it good? The unifiable, undeniable answer to all of the above, is an astounding yes. The album in its entirety is a delicate dance between contrasts, dark and light, pop and electronica. It appears a fittingly, unique crossover of Lykke Li and Hans Zimmer to create tracks that feel as if they could score your own life or that of film with its cinematic excellence. It’s constructed thoroughly with a continuous journey through suffrage, acknowledgement, and enlightenment. While feeling energetic, “Things We Don’t Talk About” is intimate while remaining mystifying and whimsical. Everyone has something to learn through listening to this album - about themselves, or others. Although Bonander capably covers “Things We Don’t Talk About” the debut album itself is definitely something we definitely should talk about.