Album Review: Grapell – The Answer

[Grandemo; 2021]

To say Grapell only make love songs isn’t a slight or an attempt to sell them short – it’s a description they use themselves; “two long-time friends writing love songs from a basement in Stockholm,” as they say in their bio. The duo – made up of singer Emil Erstrand and drummer Nils Nygårdh – work in the realm of an emotion that a whole history of musicians have been exploring. Thus, the prospect of 12 songs about love on Grapell’s sophomore album The Answer might understandably seem a little hackneyed to some.

However, Grapell have a really great knack for this area of songwriting. Erstrand and Nygårdh are talented songwriters, and even though the subject matter might not be entirely original, they know how to put together a song that’s a downright pleasure to listen to. On the album’s strong, early stride, they offer up some of The Answer‘s best moments. The smooth shuffle of “Stranger’s Mouth” is adorned with a princely number of features from Hammond organ to a sultry saxophone while “High On You” is a ballad to sink into entirely, complete with a sumptuous muted trumpet solo. “Open Up Your Heart” might not have any kind of deep sentiment to offer when Erstrand sings the song’s title in the chorus, but the track’s sprightly and affable tone is hard not to get sucked into; when the bright guitar solo arrives at the back end, it genuinely feels like a streak of sunshine filling up a room.

Too much love isn’t for everyone, but to the duo’s credit they don’t just focus on the ebullient side of things. The Answer reads like an apology record of sorts, like we’re watching a young couple try to reconcile their differences, if not just one half trying to win the other back. Come the second half of the album, the lyrics focus less on the giddy butterflies in the stomach: “I get closer to you even when I try to pull away now / I want you to stay now,” Erstrand confesses on the twinkling “Tear To Open”; and on the country-smeared bob of “My Ugly Side” he offers, “I want to show you every weakness / Cause I don’t think you’d like me less.”

Come the album’s final run an ending of sorts reveals itself. The bustling “Moments” should really be the end point for the record with its wall of choral vocals and honking horns. If there ever was a song that sounds like a grand finish then it’s definitely this. Consequently, the following two tracks feel more like a coda, an addendum to the story to let it settle more peacefully. “How Can a Heart Change?” is as reflective as the title suggests (“I remember that I told you I love you / But I don’t remember what you replied”), and would fit nicely as the soundtrack to any emotional sitcom finale. “One Last Dance” is the end credits song; a sweet, swaying closing curtain that seems apt. “I just wanted to dance / And to hold you close / One last time / Before I let you go,” Erstrand pleads quietly, wrapping up The Answer‘s love story.

It can be easy to knock an artist or band for tackling subject matter that’s as well-worn as something so simply described as ‘love’, and yet Grapell do it well. Their mix of soulful pop, Beatles-esque simplicity, and heartfelt dedication is easy to get swept up in. It’s not just because they show multiple sides of what love is and can be, but because they explore it without compromising on the enjoyment of the listener. Sure, The Answer might have a couple of duds in its middle, it can be be a little too on the nose sometimes (the ocean sounds on “Another Useless Love Song”), and it may be somewhat overlong, but all this is easily excusable when you’re wrapped up in it all. And even if you feel like questioning the duo’s approach, you know what the response is going to be; as they say in the opening title track, “the answer is love.”