Album Review: Heidrunna – Melodramatic

[Klaka; 2022]

If you like listening to love songs, then there’s a good chance you like a bit of drama too. Hearing about how so and so did that to get you back, or how you were scorned when another so and so did that(!) is part of the tantalising equation that keeps us hooked to good love songs. Who can resist leaning in to listen when someone is spilling the tea – especially when it’s something unforgivable that’s gone down. When a singer does it right, and everything in the equation is there alongside the juicy bait, then we’re all ears.

Enter Iceland’s Heidrunna, whose debut album Melodramatic would benefit from being what it says it is. Sure, there are moments when she relates how her significant other left her for her friend, or a complicated love triangle with friends and exes erupts, but thanks to Heidrunna’s achingly plain delivery it’s hard to care much – if at all – about her forlorn heart. Sometimes she’ll lean into her native accent and curl a constant in a Björkian fashion, but more commonly she’ll go for a breathy near-whisper, sounding like other fellow countrymate Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir singing contractually obligated synth pop with a bored huff.

It should be said that the music is at equal fault here. Swirling together influences from 80s pop to modern day artists like Little Boots, Beach House, and The Weeknd, the result is often vanilla and featureless electropop that goes in one ear and out the other. Robyn this is most definitely not, and any comparisons to the Swedish powerhouse are ill placed. Apart from perhaps the “Tragedy”-like bells of “Erasing You” or the watery guitar notes of “No Valium”, it’s a task in itself to find anything of note to say about the backdrops Heidrunna is cast against here. Producer Liam Howe seems to want to offer little to no sonic surprises for the listener, content instead on letting everything pass so long as it sounds merely okay (see: “Love Don’t Come Easy” and “Daydreamer” which, at best, can be described as fine).

There are a few exceptions peppered here and there. The Euro-house piano pulse of “Cindy” is a welcome turn at first, but even though it’s sung in her native Icelandic, the track still feels flat and like it’s the starting phase of a much better remix. (Indeed the NZCA LINES remix of “Borderline” shows that there is real potential here, giving Heidrunna’s voice presence, purpose, and a slick bass-driven rhythm to work around.) The best track on offer in the album is at the centre; “Call It Melodramatic” doesn’t aim for the stars, but with its light disco flair and seemingly self-aware lyrical hook (“Call it melodramatic / Call it whatever you like”), there’s a welcome lively pulse at play. You could imagine it fitting nicely into any Kylie Minogue record from the past decade or so.

Such actively enjoyable moments are rare though. Too often Heidrunna’s lyrics are clunky (“I’m not some kind of rental bride”; “But in your own little world / Connection is really bad”) and her reliance on basic images (crying into coffee, crying in the shower to hide her tears, pining for affirmation from another) makes a convincing case that she has little to bring to the already overstuffed table of songs about heartbreak. And while the gumption is to be admired, if Heidrunna is going to try her hand at using classic phrases (“Love me or leave me”, “You can go your own way”) she damn well better have something special to add to enormously better songs who use these lines as their hook. (Spoiler: she does not.)

Altogether, the thing that might leave the worst taste is that Melodramatic sounds flavourless and generic. It’s almost easier to imagine that these songs, with their predictable turns and features (see the lo-fi bookends of “You Can Go Your Own Way”), were created by some AI or by mass committee. Melodramatic can feel worryingly like a melange of influences stuck together inoffensively as part of a tick box exercise. Even the moments when Heidrunna lets out a moment of profanity, she shies away from it instead of doing the opposite, an untaken path which would have only made it feel like the scorn or the whole experience she describes is in any way real. To hear the album as a half-hearted and at best okay corporate exercise is the better way to think of it though. The alternative is that this was all created with intent from the mind of a single human, and for a person to make something as dull and unstimulating as this (and call it Melodramatic!) seems like a much worse path.