Beneath the Hill I Smell the Sea

Azure Blue

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Beneath the Hill I Smell the Sea Review

by Tim Sendra

Azure Blue's third album, Beneath the Hill I Smell the Sea, is fundamentally very similar to their last one, 2013's Beyond the Dreams There's Infinite Doubt, but with a few big differences. The key elements of the sound Tobias Isaksson crafts here is the same, namely smooth and silky synth-driven pop that's mostly sad but sung with a light touch. Sort of New Order-y, very Swedish. What's added this time out gives the album a boost above the already good-to-very-good rating Azure Blue had achieved. Isaksson rounded up a whole bunch of people to sing with him, including C├ęsar Vidal of the Caesars, Swedish chanteuse Amanda Mair, Charly A, Per Magnusson of Sportsman, and Erik Lindestad of the Land Below. This gives the record a more varied feel and each singer adds something special. Mair's duet with Isaksson on the album-opening "A Town Like Alice" is truly heartwarming, Lindestad and Vidal's harmonizing on "Tragedy and Changes" is really nice, and Charley A's soulful tones on "There Was a Time" provide a nice contrast to the icy lead vocals. Isaksson himself sounds great, too, delivering his lines with just the right mix of detachment and heartache. The other change is the addition of guitars throughout the record, which gives it a warmer and less machine-operated feel. They stay in the background for the most part, filling out the sound and occasionally jumping to the front to take over the proceedings, most notably with some screaming solos on "A Town Like Alice." It's a switch that might anger synth pop purists, but it was a move that makes the sound even richer than it was before. More singers and more guitars will only take a project so far without a strong batch of songs, and Isaksson didn't forget those. While nothing stands out as a hit single, the entire album is made up of songs that have softly sticky hooks, real emotions, and melodies that are both soothing and a little heart-wrenching at times. Again, very Swedish. Isaksson has been at the pop thing for a long time, and records like this show he's working at the top of his game. Anyone looking for sophisticated pop with plenty of thawed-out hearts will discover that Beneath the Hill I Smell the Sea is a fine choice.

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