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First Listen: CEO, 'Wonderland'

CEO's new album, <em>Wonderland</em>, comes out Feb. 4.
Courtesy of the artist
CEO's new album, Wonderland, comes out Feb. 4.

The first thing you'll hear when listening to CEO's Wonderland is a sample from 2010's Feathered Cocaine, a documentary about the secret funding of al Qaeda as told through the experiences of an American falconer. The second and third things you'll hear are childlike yelps and music that could be the soundtrack to some John Hughes end credits. This song is called "Whorehouse." There is no better way to introduce yourself to the mind of Eric Berglund, the sole proprietor of CEO.

Since 2004, Berglund has proven himself to be one of the most eccentric "pop music" artists working, a kindred spirit of Ariel Pink and Claire Boucher who wanders the Swedish countryside listening to Chief Keef and Dutch hardstyle. His music, as a member of former group The Tough Alliance and principal creative of the Gothenburg-based label Sincerely Yours, has always been a bewildering and exuberant mix, and Wonderland is no different. What has changed with Berglund's transition to solo CEO is his willingness to explore deeper into the weird wilderness; to write gentle, McCartney-esque melodies paired with Chicago drill rap synths and lyrics that seem largely based on his own personal obsessions.

Wonderland is, at times, superficially soothing and fun, an almost hedonistic paean. But not far beneath the surface is something more unsettling and challenging: a statement about isolation and loneliness and a delicate search for meaning that's particularly Scandinavian. Berglund is likely the only artist who will ever claim Kanye West and Swedish soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic, both masters of graceful aggression, as two major soulmates in the same sentence. And then, a few sentences later, say that he's in love with Jennifer Lawrence now that Maria Sharapova has not answered his letters — and mean both statements with total sincerity. These are personal relationships, not idols in Technicolor.

Berglund's is the modern dilemma of finding real connection in the borderless and unfathomable yet intimate digital world, where your childhood friend from the neighborhood @'s you less frequently than a world-famous athlete or movie star. His music is a perfect example of how the search might never lead to the solution, but at least it'll provide a pleasant distraction.

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Peter Macia