The sort of anthems that made Robyn famous speed time up. “Dancing on My Own,” “Call Your Girlfriend,” and “Show Me Love” draw on bittersweet feelings, but from their first synthetic whirl of notes—as sad-happy verses open up into sad-happy choruses—they’re also a rush. Sing the tunes en masse and it’s fun like a roller coaster is fun, like a thriller movie is fun, or like a night of drinking, remembered later only in patches, is fun. You just want to do it again.
She’s done with the rush, mostly. In the eight years since her last proper album, the 39-year-old Swede has endured personal loss, taken up meditation, and recorded some experimental collaborative EPs. Now she’s fully reemerged with nine songs that ask the listener to sit with them in great mindfulness as she grapples with time’s passage. Honey, her eighth album, is all underplaying and evasion, winks and sighs. She’s termed her new sound “soft ecstasy,” and it’s not hard to imagine that phrase as a club drug: The world comes into focus, but the payoff is mellower than euphoria.
Even the most recognizably Robyn-esque track, the return single and album opener “Missing U,” is fundamentally rejiggered. It, like many of her old songs, centers on an arpeggiator, equipment that renders chords like pointillists render landscapes: for a twinkling, ebbing effect. “On this record, the arpeggios are still there, but I tried to make them less even, less stiff, less on the 16th notes, and with a different groove,” she told Pitchfork, which helps explain the lurching sensation underneath the song’s story of loss. Catharsis murmurs in the lyrics and the phrasing, but relief isn’t the centerpiece. Pain is.