A strong second album of pop-leaning house.
This is all the more pronounced when you consider these eight melancholic house and downtempo tracks alongside Kovács's past work. In a review of Kovács's previous album, The Bells, Matt McDermott used language like "good-natured humor," "fun-loving" and "court jester routine" to describe the music Kovács and his label, Studio Barnhus, are known for. The album wasn't a bag of Skittles all the way through, but it was strikingly upbeat. It's an association that persists to this day, one that sets Studio Barnhus apart and makes it a much-loved label. But on Stockholm Marathon we get to see how Kovács's bright, colourful landscape looks with rain clouds moving across it.
Most of what's here could be described as bittersweet. It's obviously not good that Kovács may have experienced sadness while making the album, but the subtle change in mood is a timely development for his sound. The Swedish pop and EDM duo Rebecca & Fiona, who are friends of Kovács's, appear frequently on Stockholm Marathon. But what at first appears to be a straightforward—and frankly unsurprising—move towards vocal-led, pop-leaning dance music is actually a choice in service of the wider theme. The pair's soft, sombre tones fit tightly with Kovács's hazy basslines and reflective synthesizers. Their lyrics can at times be distracting. (Sample line: "We can run the marathon, like it's 1981.") But between the two vocal-led cuts that open the album and their subtler appearances elsewhere, Rebecca & Fiona's drifting presence creates cohesion.
The pair sing against the backdrop of some of the strongest music Kovács has ever produced. "Rocks" should be the record's hit. The sell is a gorgeous quivering synth line, used in combination with a raspy bassline and Rebecca & Fiona's wispy vocals. It screams summer boat party, but it also has some emotional depth. Kovács should be pleased with the synths he creates from that point onwards. "Ducks" and "Club Notes" both sound beautiful but wounded, and he saves his most resplendent melody for last with "Baltzar." The Bells was undoubtedly a stronger collection of club tracks (which, after all, is what he's known for). But as the piano, strings and "Hyph Mngo"-style vocal samples harmonise on this final track, it becomes obvious that Stockholm Marathon is a stronger album.