Originally written and published by me for PopMatters.
“Running ‘round in endless circles, here comes the shame / That empty feeling, what if, darling, I can’t change?” sings Swedish singer Lotta Lindgren, known professionally as LÉON, on the title track to her third studio album Circles. The record marks her third full-length LP in three years, preceded by a number of memorable EPs. On Circles’ predecessor Apart, released in the final quarter of 2020, it was difficult for any of the singer’s signature sounds to not hit you right where it hurts, and not necessarily in a good way. “In a Stranger’s Arms” will somehow always be about the pandemic for me, even though being in strangers’ arms has been rightfully illegal for the last two years. But on Circles, LÉON creates a synth-heavy album whose ambient sound conjures the feeling of calm after the storm, even if that calm might still be emotionally fraught.
The singer’s best quality has always been her ability to be vulnerable within the lines of her songs, and with each new release she manages to deepen both her artistry and sense of self by pushing the boundaries of what it means to be vulnerable. “I like to take the bus / Do some people watching,” LÉON sings on lead single “Soaked” from last fall. “I wonder where they’re all going / I don’t know where I’m going.” Although the theme of being lost in love runs consistently throughout her discography, it’s only on Circles where the singer starts to sound truly at home in her own skin, ugly emotions and all, finally accepting of pain that she had to heal on her own. “Get the world off your shoulders, I know we are older / But it’s never over for me,” she proclaims on “Wishful Thinking,” the album’s strongest offering.
Unlike her previous releases, Circles also touches on themes outside of love, such as the aforementioned comfort in her own skin on “Soaked” and acceptance of growing older while still feeling the same on “Wishful Thinking.” But the album also explores fantasies and dreams, making Circles feel like one long, compelling diary entry that does what this kind of personal music does best: make the listener feel less alone in their own feelings, even if they are worlds apart. On “Wildest Dreams,” she’s troubled by the illusions of the past: “Haunted by you, I’m haunted by all my wildest dreams / Guess that’s the price you pay for being free.” And on the final track “The Beach,” she comes to terms with something every adult feels at one time or another, a childhood that felt over all too soon: “Oh, I fear of letting go / Reaching for the surface / Now I can see the shore / The strangest feeling hits me / That I’ve been here once before.”
“Some of these songs I didn’t even mean to put on the album,” explained LÉON of her third studio effort. “I felt they were too raw. But it just ended up being what I had to say. I found a way to write about feeling anxious.” The singer somehow always manages to bottle this feeling of anxiety perfectly, creating the ultimate soundtrack for a night under a blanket with a lit candle nearby. Where Apart was a way of processing her emotions, Circles is composed of the ugly truths, the ones we often must gather the courage to express to ourselves lest they envelope us whole. “I went through all these big ups and downs last year. I was very much struggling a lot with anxiety, like so many people. And I had never really put that into my music, but it’s always been a very big part of me,” she said. “There’s a lot of songs on here that I’m not sure I want people to hear. I’ve been so nervous, but now I’m very excited to share it.”
Jeffrey’s favorites from Circles: “Dancer,” “Wishful Thinking,” “Soaked,” “Moonlight,” “Circles,” “Wildest Dreams,” and “The Beach”