Alice Boman exists in a world of wistful fatalism on her debut album. The songs on Dream On are full of regretful wishes and powerful longings that are usually outweighed by doubts and fears. Even as Boman seeks to revel in the present, the Swedish singer and songwriter is haunted by the certainty flickering at the edges of her consciousness that any bliss she feels will be fleeting, and then vanish forever.
Emotions that heavy have a tendency to sink quickly into claustrophobia, but Boman balances the roiling turmoil in her mind with ethereal indie-pop musical arrangements that are calm and measured, almost to the point of serene. The songs unfold in an unhurried way, keyboards seeping in like a ground fog around Boman’s feathery voice. She often sings as though she’s floating in a gauzy dream-world, her voice soft and beseeching on lyrics that swing between despondent and despairingly ardent. “Every nerve in this body / Is aching for your touch,” she murmurs on “It’s OK, It’s Alright,” which would sound torrid if it weren’t also clear that she’s waiting in vain for the affection of someone who’s “so close and so far away.” The twist transforms a song on the verge of passion into something far more wrenching and tragic, and Boman’s matter-of-fact delivery—as if she expected this all along—is spellbinding.
She does it again and again on Dream On, the protagonists in her songs offering themselves to lovers who are unavailable, for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s circumstance: A fervent embrace on the slow, sensuous opener “I Wish We Had More Time” is undercut by the lurking knowledge that time is short, and Boman sings with languorous yearning. By contrast, she’s torn between regret and desire on “Heart on Fire,” wishing she’d never met someone who has ignited such an unrequited infatuation. Boman sings in quiet, breathy tones, backed by simple and limber bass, a spare beat and layers of wispy harmony vocals on the refrain.
Part of what makes the songs on Dream On so compelling is Boman’s knack for hooks that seem unobtrusive until they prove impossible to shake. Most of her refrains consist of simple phrases that she repeats, an approach at once effective and a little haunting. On some songs, it works almost as a plea: Throughout “Don’t Forget About Me,” Boman steers through dreamy, forlorn verses blanketed in subdued synthesizers on her way to a chorus that rises out of the mist. Boman repeats the song title in the refrain, lifting her voice in swirling, multi-tracked harmonies as bright shafts of keyboards punctuate her vocals.
The song is the centerpiece of the album, though there’s not a misfire among these 10 tracks. After releasing acclaimed EPs in 2013 and 2014, and landing songs on TV shows including Transparent, Boman more than makes good on her potential with Dream On. At once intimate and intense, her first LP is the work of an artist stepping fully into her own.