All Killer, No Filler: Robyn and La Bagatelle Magique's 'Love is Free', Reviewed

Robyn's output over the last five years has subtly made a powerful case for the EP as pop's modus operandi
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Robyn's output over the last five years has subtly made a powerful case for the EP as pop's modus operandi

What is the secret to Robyn’s success? In a pop universe overstuffed with talented, fascinating female pop stars, what is it about Robyn that makes her such a perennial favorite among music critics and a discerning audience? It’s not purely a question of quality, although the memorability of superlative tracks like “Call Your Girlfriend” and “Dancing On My Own” cannot be contested. Quantity doesn’t paint the entire picture either — in fact, in the last decade, Robyn has only released one true, full-length record, her 2005 self-titled reinvention.

The source of Robyn’s persistent excellence lies rather in her preferred method of distribution — the EP. Robyn’s 2010 trio of Body Talk EPs offered an array of delectable dance-pop treats, packing just enough saccharine punch before the taste grew too overpowering. In the dance and pop music genres especially, consistency over the course of a full-length LP can be a constant struggle. In her latest bauble, Love is Free, Robyn continues to circumvent that difficulty entirely. The five-track collaborative project with keyboardist Markus Jagerstedt and late producer Christian Falk, dubbed La Bagatelle Magique, is a dynamo of pummeling rhythms and shimmering vocals. Like all great dance parties, it soars to swooping highs, radiates unrelenting energy, and ends far too soon. 

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What a marvelously infectious song cycle this is. Probably owing to the input from her Bagatelle coterie, Robyn’s work on Love Is Free skews far more heavily towards the “dance” end of the dance-pop spectrum. Taking influences from European disco, house, and early Madonna, the EP passes by almost as one twenty-minute mini-mix, morphing its melodies and moods for refreshing variety.

The pre-release singles, “Set Me Free” and the title track, remain as compelling as ever. “Love Is Free,” boasting a guest spot from the Diplo-endorsed Maluca, is a skittering club banger while “Set Me Free” sublimates Robyn to complete discotheque nirvana. Of the new cuts, there are no weak links. Opener “Lose Control” is largely a scene-setter, but nevertheless a slippery Depeche Mode-channeling ditty that appropriately foreshadows the beats to come. “Got to Work It Out” works equally well for the gym or the club, building a dense foundation of subwoofer-rattling bass and insistent handclaps beneath a canopy of beautiful vocoder. The delirious closer, Arthur Russell-cover “Tell You (Today)” sounds like a collaboration between the Miami Sound Machine and Crystal Waters, sporting brassy Bee Gees horns and the song’s signature, maddeningly catchy whistling refrain. The entire collection is anchored by Robyn’s angular anvil of a voice, alternately piercing and floating through the web of synths and drum machines.

Love is Free makes a seriously compelling case that the EP should be the standard form of pop-music communication. Robyn’s latest is all killer, no filler, and leaves you begging for more. Along with Carly Rae Jepsen’s soon-to-be-released Emotion, Love is Free is a shot of pure adrenaline for an otherwise fairly stagnant summer of pop music. Perhaps after ten years of great work, we should really acknowledge that Robyn just may be on to something here.

B+

Love is Free is out now. Grab it here