Sweden’s Mia Maria Johansson has been churning out music in her home country’s underground scene for almost two decades now, so it’s safe to say she knows her way around a song. As part of Meine Kleine Deutsche she is a self-professed godparent of Scandinavian Electroclash, whilst elsewhere she has been a part of bands like Snake and Majvor; Johansson has been so productive and busy over the years that it’s not surprising she’s only now getting around to releasing a solo album.
Written at home after a messy break up, Slay has a consistent theme of breaking free and taking destiny into one’s own hands. “I won’t do that dance no more,” she declares on the peppy opening track “Devil’s Dance”, while at the other end of the record she’s almost screaming “Finally I can breathe / I can shout” with uninhibited joy. Though Johansson started writing the record four or five years ago, it has the immediacy of something written in the spur of the moment.
Slay‘s strength comes in Johansson knowing what she wants and not fussing about getting there. Her arrangements are simple and effective for the most part, never stuffy or overcooked; you could break apart each element quite easily if you wanted to. Producer Stefan Brändström took her original Garageband recordings and hitched them up without compromising that lone recording spark. You can still see the homely sheen underneath the flash, be it in a moment of joy (the whoop of excitement and laughter at the end of “Devil’s Dance”) or her almost desperate personal call to arms (“Out Of Time”). Even when she’s joined by guests (Johan Svahn for drums on “Sköldmön” and HURULA for additional vocals on “Electro You”), Johansson still sounds like she’s entirely in charge and controlling the steering wheel; she even made the album’s cover art.
While Slay is a pretty simple and efficient album (its eight tracks don’t even break the half hour mark), if there are qualms to be had, then they are more depth-related. While Johansson’s message of breaking free from destructive people and forging your own path are plainly there to see, Slay wouldn’t be any worse off if she mined a little deeper to paint a more specific picture. While she can without a doubt write a hook and an electro-pop-punk arrangement, this same formula that she relies on does get a little stale, even in this short space of time. It’s the defining features on such arrangements that make the best tracks stand out; for instance the impassioned delivery on tracks like “The End” and “Out Of Time” sear them into memory, or the way Joansson can shift gears with a simple intonation, like when she hits the bridge on “Hunt”.
Speaking of “The End” though, it really does seem like the obvious finishing point for the album, both lyrically and thematically. Over synths that sound fresh from The Killers’ Hot Fuss, Johansson sounds ready to leave it all behind. She could easily have driven the chorus into oblivion (and it would have been hard to blame her for doing so), but the song’s title is its own self-fulfilling prophecy, cutting short any needless repetition at the final mark. Closing track “Electro You” does thusly feel little tacked on like an afterthought; by no means a weak track with its neon-nightclub feel and hiding grungy guitar, it comes off more like an addendum or epilogue than a final chapter.
Such quibbles do feel misplaced though, as Slay doesn’t feel like it sets out to be anything beyond straight-forward, to-the-point electropop/rock. In an interview with Savant, Johansson said it was working in her other musical outfits that helped give her encouragement and security to branch out into the world on her own. Slay is a pretty fine start on her own personal journey, and just as she declares on the album, she’s walking away from the past and treading her own path to the future. It took her some time to get here, but fans will be glad she finally made the time for herself.