[Self-released; 2021]

Like many others, Miranda Engholm (aka Coral) started a Soundcloud page to just simply share musical ideas she had bubbling up inside her, without any grand aspirations or plans for it to lead anywhere. Her songs were fuzzy around the edges (and downright experimentally discordant in some instances), but still intimate, like songs you would overhear your roommate recording into their iPhone in their bedroom. Jump forward a few years and, after encouragement from her best friend who was working at an underground music club, Engholm was playing her first live shows – one of them a supporting gig for Lucy Dacus. All this before she even had an album or EP under her belt.

In September 2019 Engholm made a more official debut to the world with her double single “you’re not worth a song but still you got one” / “find me wrong”, enchanting a new set of listeners no doubt drawn in by her self-deprecating and gloomy lo-fi acoustic charm. Her debut album Spoon, recorded with Joakim Lindberg, seeks to keep hold of that same appeal while upping the production value enough to broaden the scope. It’s a hard line to toe, and Spoon slips too much and too often from one side to the other. It’s never flashy, but it is frustratingly inconsistent at times.

Yet the songs here still allure and draw you in. Engholm’s intimacy is not lost, and Spoon has enough tracks worthy of your ear for a short while. “no worth” stings slowly with its dejected tone as Engholm recalls, “you said to my face / you told with no grace / you’re of no worth at all.” “better” jangles sweetly with a late summer warmth as piano touches decorate the guitar chords. Even when Engholm is at her most surrounded, she’s still captivating: “i just want you cause you’re gone” is infectiously bright guitar pop, even though it’s tinged with uncertainty over affection for someone she doesn’t know deeply. “sorri not sorri” balances a warm yet standoff-ish tone as light snare hits dance around Engholm’s electric guitar.

As Engholm ventures down a few different avenues, the results vary and mostly evoke the work of others. “disappear i feel” leans into a grungier texture, Engholm’s voice rising like that of Julien Baker’s as feedback and metallic distortion tries to swallow her. On the aforementioned “sorri not sorri” she manages to conjure up echoes of Ailbe Reddy in her musical style and Kate Stables in her vocals as the song takes an unexpected musical pause a minute into the track. “forbidden” is perhaps the starkest example though, Engholm imitating Laura Marling so perfectly that it feels like you’re listening to a song that could have been cut from any of her albums; when the Swede utters “I just don’t give a fucking damn” the intonation is so uncannily similar in tone, any passing listener could easily be convinced you’re listening to the enigmatic British artist instead of a still fresh-on-the-scene Malmö-based singer/songwriter.

While most tries at different styles are worth the glance (the dazed, shoegaze-y “tell me”; the jaunty, silly “instant noodles”, which ends the album on a lighthearted, ramshackle note), the album’s to-ing and fro-ing between channels makes for an unsteady listen as a whole. The desire to want to try new things is understandable, but here it doesn’t marry well to qualities that made Coral engaging at first listen. Early singles like “find me wrong” and “better” still have that lo-fi charm (and other tracks here share that intimate quality), and had Spoon stayed in this area it would likely have made for a better listen.

Instead, by trying to go between new and old, the album never entirely finds the right pace or flow, compromising consistency for wider appeal. Even though it runs for a fairly economic 42 minutes, Spoon would have been a more effective and concise listen had the tracklisting perhaps been trimmed; the bookending “intro” and “…”, for instance, are a minute and 90 seconds long respectively, but they add nothing of significance to the album. Still, as a debut, Spoon still has a good few easily understated hits to offer as well compelling, self-effacing bursts of personality from Engholm. Coral’s stepping out into a bigger spotlight here, but she still very much sounds like someone recording songs for her Soundcloud just to get her expressions and impressions out there.