There’s something intensely, enchantingly likeable about Dan Croll’s debut, "Sweet Disarray," probably not least because rarely has something so polished and professional emerged from an abandoned gym-turned-recording studio, self-produced with the help of friends. The British singer-songwriter burst onto the music scene in 2013 as a rising star to watch, according to iTunes, Vevo, Spotify, XFM and many others. He has opened for the likes of CHVRCHES, Bombay Bicycle Club, Haim and Bastille, and has appeared at a number of summer music festivals. With this track record, it’s no surprise that his career has skyrocketed and made “Sweet Disarray” one of 2014’s most anticipated albums.
But does “Sweet Disarray” live up to the hype? Croll draws from such a wide variety of influences that each song is both unique and unexpected, yet the album manages to find a coherent flow. It’s extraordinarily difficult to categorize, falling generally in the alt-pop genre, but doesn’t comfortably rest there. Elements of experimental African orchestra are interwoven with 1960s psychedelic groove and overlaid with synthy vocals and impressive instrumental variety. Croll’s work falls within the same vein as acts like Volcano Choir, Beirut and Bon Iver, or maybe even an extremely chilled-out Beck, at the intersection between dreamy vocals and synth beats.
‘From Nowhere’ opens the record as a perfectly representative sample of Croll’s style, a synth-pop masterpiece of undulating rhythm and soothing vocals. He is Alt-J turned down a few notches and smoothed over, or Hey Marseilles with more effects and sans violin. This is followed by the uplifting, unassuming ‘Thinking About You’ that highlights beautiful vocal layering, particularly at the bridge, and is emotionally padded with lyrics like, “Slow down, I want you to come round/To thinkin about me.”
His instrumentation is executed and mixed with such flawless ease that at first the listener may hardly notice just how many different elements Croll weaves into each song. ‘Can You Hear Me’ and ‘Compliment Your Soul’ demonstrate this in cascades of soft keys and clean percussion sprinkled over strings, brass and split harmonies. His songs are graceful and infectious, seeming to echo inside even after they finish, like shimmering ‘Only Ghost’ and thoughtful ‘Maway.’
‘In/Out’ has a warm, accessible catchiness characteristic of bouncing alt-pop, simultaneously reminiscent of Paul Simon-esque world music influences. The title track is buried eighth but stands out with gorgeously arranged harmonic precision and Croll’s troubadour emotional gravitas.
His lyrics may tend towards sentimentality at times, as in ‘Home,’ but the melody is so entrancingly beautiful that this detracts little. The track is a sweet ending to Croll’s captivating debut record. Effervescent and consistently pleasant, Croll doesn’t exactly challenge the listener with songs as slopingly caressing as ‘Wanna Know,’ but his aim is clearly not to be challenging. “Sweet Disarray” is all about craftsmanship and finding harmony between disparate musical elements, and at this it resoundingly succeeds.