Neneh Cherry and Robyn are both Swedish-born artists who’ve parlayed left-of-center musical influences into left-field pop hits. Cherry, who has been at it longer, has — if any direction — been headed more off into her own world in recent years, teaming with Norwegian/Swedish trio the Thing for a 2012 album highlighted by an eight-plus-minute Suicide cover. The “Buffalo Stance” singer conceived another distinctive setting for her upcoming Blank Project (due out February 25 via Smalltown Supersound), trading skronky jazz for the different sort of frayed-wire vitality afforded by producer Kieran Hebden, a.k.a. Four Tet, and synth-drum duo RocketNumberNine. The title track and another advance listen, “Everything,” have appropriately been dark, turbulent, and gripping.
Cherry’s other team-up on the album, with the “Dancing on My Own” Girls endorsement-recipient, could’ve been a turn toward the middle. TV music directors might’ve eaten up a girl-power power-ballad built from the pulse-thumping mold of Robyn’s “With Every Heartbeat” or, say, Katy B’s “Crying for No Reason”; that song might’ve been great. But even more impressive is “Out of the Black,” which stays within the skeletally volatile M.O. of the rest of Blank Project and finds power in rich, unpredictable subtlety rather than broad pop gestures. “We just want you to want it, too,” Cherry and Robyn harmonize, between exclamatory drumming and spaced-out synths, finding heat in icy minimalism; the phrase could refer to the singer-audience relationship as much as lust between lovers. If “Out of the Black” gains mainstream recognition, it’ll be — as it always is from these two — out of left field. Don’t bet against them.