On the Cardigans' 2004 song "You're the Storm," singer Nina Persson used images of a marauding army to talk about love and submission. "Come and conquer and drop your bombs," she sang on the shimmering guitar-pop track. "Cross my borders and kill the calm."
The metaphor must have stuck with her. The Swede's bewitching new record, "Colonia," with her latest band, A Camp, is an album-length musing on a similar idea -- that historical colonialism is driven by an almost sexual desire, and that love has a power dynamic not entirely unlike adventuring nations.
"When it comes to lust, you have the same drive as a colonizer," Persson said. "And on the other end, you let people do all kinds of things to hurt you."
On such tracks as "Stronger Than Jesus," she slyly moves between the two themes. "We're the Belgians burning in the Congo sun," she sings. "So bring it on, wars and diseases / Don't you know love can do you like a shotgun." It's a difficult, Sylvia Plath-worthy position to compare private heartbreak with military subjugation. But "Colonia" has all sorts of more domestic yet equally perilous terrain for lovers to find metaphors in: noirish Chinatown alleys in New York, empty after-parties and failing backyard gardens.
A Camp, which hits the Troubadour on Monday, plays a beguiling sort of piano-centric pop tempered with folk guitars and reverbed flourishes that evoke the grand ambitions of a new attraction and the misery of seeing it thwarted. The connective idea, that pursuit of another is often much more take than give, is one that her husband and bandmate, Nathan Larson, is fortunately sympathetic to.
"Human beings have two drives, the libido and a death wish," he said. "Both are present in how America treated Iraq and Afghanistan. It's insane, but the concept is very much with us."
Yet despite its foreboding read on love's motivations, "Colonia" is also an ace pop album, with shimmering melodies worthy of Randy Newman and a spate of guests, including Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse and Nicolai Dunger. "Golden Teeth and Silver Medals," a duet with Dunger, is a small-hours torch tune that wallows for a few verses before relenting into a symphonic California folk chorus. "Here Are Many Wild Animals" imagines a less-creepy Phil Spector had he grown up within earshot of '60s surf rock.
Persson, Larson and guitarist Niclas Frisk are all veterans of other bands -- Persson, of course, in the Cardigans, Larson in Shudder to Think and Frisk as a popular writer and producer in Sweden. Though "Colonia" is steeped in many strains of classic pop and more flinty, intimate varietals of rock, the project is a way for its members to try on both sides sans expectations. "Everyone in this band has already been a pop star," Frisk said slyly. "None of this came out of other music; the reason we did it is purely creative."
The centerpiece might be "My America," a vintage girl-group ballad that feels almost turn-of-the-century in the earnest way that Persson uses America as a metaphor for a hopeful new love. It's both sweet-tempered and a bit tawdry -- at one point, she sings, "Lay your big dirty hands on my innocence" and it's equally sexy and hilarious. But as Obama's America slowly begins to regain some international goodwill, Persson is one European happy to receive its advances.
"I live in Harlem and I'm having a real crush on New York right now," she said. "I'm enjoying being America's victim."