Over a contrasting chirpy, backtracked loop and a bleary-eyed guitar riff, Ebba Gustafsson Ågren sings the first words of Wy‘s third album, Marriage. “I’m scared,” she exhales, sounding like she’s uncoiling a teary lump in the back of her throat before repeating the sentiment again with a higher inflection. Ebba is no stranger to showing vulnerability, as Wy’s previous albums have captured her telling of anxiety, depression, and alienation from those around her. But here on Marriage the messages seem less like diary entries repurposed as lyrics and more like honest conversations between her and her bandmate/husband Michel Gustafsson Ågren.
“I’m scared” begins a series of back and forths on opening track “Come Here”, as Ebba calls to her husband to help drive her away from reaching for the bottle or just to put out the fire in her mind. By the end of the track the phrase “I’m scared” turns into the song’s titular phrase. An upbeat drumbeat has come into view and some extra synths are warming the edges of the guitar, like the pair have come together in a soothing embrace.
These kinds of transformations in lyrics crop up across Marriage, and they reflect the subtle changes that occur between both Ebba and Michel, but also in any deep and emotional relationship between two people. Following track “Shiba Inu” has Ebba confessing “I always think I’m right” over a low key indie rock chug until she corrects herself by saying “I need to know I’m right.” On “Dream House” she declares “I think we’re in love / I think we’re insane” during the chorus, as the duo lean into the Beach House-like dream pop that has been at the centre of their music. Come the other end of the song though, Ebba intones the phrase just a little differently, and instead of the aforementioned lyric, it sounds like she’s singing “I think we’re in love / I think I am sane.” It’s a tiny thing, and maybe not even deliberate, but it’s the kind of little detail that is hiding beneath the surface of Wy’s songs.
Toning down the flashier, more heavily produced side we heard on previous album Softie, Marriage reins in the setup, making for unfussy arrangements and shorter songs that don’t stay past their welcome. No doubt a by-product of working to their own aims without a label obligation over the past few years, the Malmö-based pair sound less concerned with creating hits than they do with capturing what’s personal to them. The fuzzy and peppy guitar fuzz of “A Walk Outside” sits side by side with the languid synths of “Window” (the only instance where they exceed three a half minutes, but do so to unfurl a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety over FOMO). It’s telling that the album originally began life as an EP, as its 29 minute runtime makes it feel like a small world fleshed out with more context.
If Marriage sounds like something to roll your eyes at, like LA band Kisses gone into overdrive, then rest assured that it’s really not that mushy or mawkish. Their music here is a testament to togetherness, of finding solace and peace in another and helping that accentuate one’s own view on the world. Ebba’s straight-forward, honest, and direct lyrics are no less watered down here, and are helped greatly by her singing more comfortably within her range (and less like she’s trying to imitate Zola Jesus, like she sounded on early releases). She can swear with such calm you might not register the F-bombs on “That Picture of Me”; she can casually weave wistfulness and reflection into the shot (“How will I look back at this when I’m older?” she questions on tongue-bitten and slightly tongue-in-cheek “Miserable Artist”); and there’s even space for a self-deprecating line that encapsulates her entire ethos: “It’s a form of art / To be this faint of heart.”
Ebba starts the album uttering that she’s scared, and come the other end the sentiment is equally direct. Over an aquatic dreaminess of jangly guitars and spacey synths on “God’s Lamb”, she makes a call out to her significant other, as she stands terrified by all those surrounding her. “Come get me,” she pleads. It’s the album’s strongest track, and when the music disappears to leave just her voice calling out, the honest timbre of her voice becomes all the clearer. There’s fear in the words, but a calm hope too. She’s calling out to the one she loves, who she knows will indeed come get her.