With their new band Det Vackra Livet, the brothers Philip and Henrik Ekström aren’t doing anything they didn’t do in their previous outfit, the Mary Onettes. On their debut self-titled album, there is still plenty of love on display for the gloomy, fog machine-obscured 80s sound of bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and New Order with banks of synths, Hook-y basslines, Phillip’s melancholy and melodramatic vocals, and heavily FX’d guitars cascading throughout the mix. There are a couple of changes the brothers have implemented here. The biggest difference on the surface is that the duo has turned their back on the English language in order to deliver the lyrics in their native Swedish tongue. That may seem like a bad thing to some, but really, it wouldn’t matter what language Ekström used, his emotional delivery works regardless. More importantly, the band shows improvement over the Mary Onettes' last album, both in the sound and in the songwriting. The arrangements are similarly huge and spacious with layers of synths, guitars, and drums filling every inch of the sound spectrum, but now there isn’t the same overblown and over-worked feel the Mary Onettes sometimes fell victim to; instead, the feel is more organic and scaled to real human size instead of aiming for the back row of a stadium. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s enough to notice, and the new approach helps the songs connect in a real way. As for the songs themselves, almost all of them have the kind of soaring melodies and dramatic choruses you want from '80s-inspired bands. Mostly midtempo and dramatic, they have a grace and flow that transmit a mood of theatrical sadness almost perfectly. There are even a few tracks like “Juni Berättar” and “Askan” that are made for dancing (by yourself, with tears). That being said, it’s moments where the duo slow way down and get pretty (“Vi Agde Världen”) or heartbreakingly tender (“Barn Av en Istid”), that make the record something you’ll want to hear again. Det Vackra Livet is a happy surprise for anyone who really wanted to like the Mary Onettes unreservedly but couldn’t quite get there. The brothers Ekström got it right this time, and the band truly earns their spot on the Labrador roster.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra