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Icona Pop (We Love It) and Krewella (We Don’t): Two Heroic, Sis-Centric Punk-Pop LPs

Icona Pop / Photo by Wilson Lee
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: September 20, 2013
Label: TEN/Big Beat

Icona Pop, This Is… Icona Pop (TEN/Big Beat)

Krewella, Get Wet (Columbia)

Sisterhood is both pop’s secret subject and the engine that powers it. Without that electric collectivity that crackles between young women, there would be no boy bands, no Biebers, no Beatlemania, no riot grrrls, and not much dancing at music festivals, just smelly dudes pushing and puking. Sis-mance also binds girl groups — it willingly burns brightly, but just as easily burns out: Heed the rise and fall of Spice Girls, t.A.T.u., and the Pussycat Dolls to name three of its most exploitative examples.

So it’s striking that two far more organic manifestations of sis-mance sounds, Icona Pop and Krewella, are hitting simultaneously. Stockholm’s Icona Pop started four years ago when Aino Jawo, then experiencing her first breakup, was taken to a party thrown by Caroline Hjelt, then nursing a broken leg. The pair vowed that night to form a band, and started writing songs together the next day. Chicago’s Krewella also began at a party: Kris “Rain Man” Trindl, a metalhead but also a fan of Nelly Furtado’s Loose, had abandoned his own soiree to program beats in his room, where he was found by Jahan Yousaf, a choir singer then attending the same high school from which he’d graduated. Later realizing they needed another voice, Jahan drafted her little sis, Yasmine.

A contender for the greatest-ever punk song not played on guitars, Icona Pop’s “I Love It” is the roar of two gals regaining mastery of their destinies by surrendering control in the moment, i.e., throwing a good healthy fit. Their first international album, This Is… reprises that slow-burning but eventually ubiquitous smash with two other similarly rowdy songs from last year’s eponymous homeland debut, plus eight new tracks that realize the indie-rock/teen-pop crossover that’s been building ever since Freelance Hellraiser laid Christina Aguilera over the Strokes. Nearly every song has that sugary/savory mix, and although it’s by now a familiar recipe, Icona Pop and their almost exclusively Scandinavian collaborators almost always ace it.

Most every cut celebrates living the dream, doing it all night, and kissing to the serenade of wailing police sirens. One line from “On a Roll” sums up the entire album in one astoundingly awkward and brilliant utterance: “You go with me, there will be not drinking of tea.” Whether alternating lines or vocalizing together, Jawo and Hjelt wail in practically identical voices that imply sisterhood even in the rare occasions that it goes unspoken. They sing of sweet mayhem, yet do so with impeccable diction.

Besides “I Love It,” the other genius move here is “Girlfriend.” Drawing from the chorus of 2Pac’s bloodthirsty “Me and My Girlfriend,” the duo, their co-writers, and the Norwegian production team Stargate replace Shakur’s gun lust with neon-rainbow synths, rhythms that evoke the gallop of stampeding unicorns, and flawless ABBA harmonies. But like the best Scandinavian pop, there’s melancholy embedded in what’s ostensibly jolly, both in the melody’s bittersweetness, and the lyric’s embattled pragmatism: “We’re doing this for good, for worse, the gift, the curse / We’re not gonna back down.” That struggle implies that these girlfriends might be more than friends, but they might not: Female friendship, even sans eros, is implicitly heroic; most men like to see women as competitive, not buddies. Yet the song’s serene video and the power of their performance evokes Thelma and Louise without driving their car off the cliff: Jawo and Hjelt won’t go down like that. Tupac’s “bloody end” is now a “happy end.” They’ve earned it.

Krewella bring the YOLO vibes on Get Wet in far less finessed form. The Yousaf sisters “swallow down your jagged sin” (“Come & Get It”). They tell haters to “shut the fuck up” (“Dancing with the Devil”). Singing “No light to brake when you’re hanging by fate,” they mix metaphors mercilessly in “Alive,” one of the several recent dance anthems to sell a million in the U.S.A. while barely touching the Top 40. Trindl combines mainstream trance and Skrillex-ian dubstep while the sisters bring the Hot Topic realness via black cutoffs and neck tattoos. This is mallrat EDM, emphatically crass and unapologetically simple.

Like Icona Pop, Krewella employ a small army of songwriters to help craft their streamlined stuff. The trio apparently play most of the music Get Wet and Krindl produces much of it too, but because their tunes and noises are so much more generic than those of their Swedish counterparts, there’s little individual identity from him or the Auto-Tuned Yousafs. If Icona Pop are Eurodisco punk, then Krewella are heartland techno hair-metal.

The other major difference is that Icona Pop have their own aural thumbprint. Even when they’re shouting, they do so in a particularly musical and distinctive way, and although their smash is one of five This Is… songs the duo had no hand in writing, they nevertheless suggest a consistent sense of authorship through the intensity of their shared ecstasies and frustrations. That tangible sisterhood trumps the actual siblings of Krewella because there’s more verve involved. Despite lyrics to the contrary, Icona Pop do care. They love it.