The Swedish singer and producer Thea Gustafsson’s latest EP creates a singular, cosmopolitan pop mood that is at once stylish and vulnerable.
Under the name Becky and the Birds, Swedish singer and producer Thea Gustafsson makes gossamer-light music threaded with R&B beats and her acrobatic, piercing falsetto. She studied at the prestigious Swedish songwriting academy Musikmakarna—even interning under EDM wunderkind Avicii—but Gustafsson resisted the formulaic pop training. Instead, she drew on the jazz and soul records of her youth to create her own stylish take, introduced on a brief 2018 self-titled EP. Embroidered with spacious beats, spoken-word segments, and slippery vocal modulations, her music adopts a lightly cinematic style to backdrop her soaring voice. On Trasslig, Gustafsson’s follow-up EP, she maintains a similar mood but brightens it up with strummed guitar and mid-tempo beats, evoking a breezy temperament that belies lyrics that explore aching vulnerability.
Gustafsson builds momentum best through her gliding melodies. Where whistle tones and other vocal feats were used more as scenery on her home-recorded debut, here she leans further into them as dramatic linchpins. On “Wondering,” she dances around a deep-pitched looped vocal and teases out vowels between words as she ponders the afterlife in an ascending melody: “Wondering where you are?/What’s it gonna be without you?” She wrote the song after her late grandmother, an inspiration she translates into a wistfulness that feels weightless and soothing. A similar sense of nostalgia colors “Pass Me By,” on which she succumbs to the “sweet surrender” of a summer romance over gentle multi-tracked vocals and a sample of Hiromasa Suzuki’s 1976 song “High-Flying.” The song graciously takes its time to unwind, extending over a minute and a half before drums roll in behind and loft it into a panoramic highlight.
Trasslig’s more earnest ballads fall flat without the same sense of movement, but Gustafsson’s risky production leaves room for surprises. The heartbroken “Paris” conjures up the sparse, acoustic moments on Frank Ocean’s Blonde, especially with Gustafsson’s voice suddenly pitched up to a high-pitched replica of Ocean’s over an organ-like synth. But when she adopts the same modulation on “Do U Miss Me,” the EP’s closing ballad, Gustafsson eventually flips the affected vocal into a backup to her own unaltered voice, melding them together in powerful harmony. Those bespoke details across Trasslig add up to their own distinct world, rendering a contemplative and tranquil look at all the complexities that come when you allow yourself to be vulnerable to your own emotions.
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