The intoxicating effects of the internet age are something Adam Öhman, the Stockholm-based singer, songwriter and producer, who is also known as Mountain Bird, poignantly channels on his new Once We Were PresentEP, with the record’s five tracks supposed to illustrate the baleful grip social media has on so many of our lives.
Having made his breakthrough with 2018’s CubismEP, which consisted primarily of atmospheric stadium pop anthems. He released his second EP in January, Dear Brain Let Me Sleep was a detailed and honest insight into the life of someone battling with their mental health, a journey through lush electronic soundscapes and alluring synth textures. It marked the start of a new chapter sonically for the artist, who previously recorded either instrumentals, or using guest vocalists.
Once We Were Present marks Öhman’s continuing growth into an introspective songwriter who enjoys exploring the human condition just as much as making people dance.
“So many people have this abusive relationship with social media, which takes over their lives just like a regular drug addiction does,” the artist explains to me of the new project’s conceptual aims. “With this new EP, I wanted to question whether it currently has too big of a grip over our lives. I hope these songs show people that the internet is a tool we must respect and that we shouldn’t be embracing at the expense of enjoying our youth.”
This concept comes to life perfectly on EP opener “Modern Man”. Ina haunting yet stirring vocal, Öhman sings: “My favourite drug is confirmation”, with the song’s frenetic mix of electronica, pop, indie, techno, and stadium rock supposed to mirror the scary speeds found within the internet’s instant gratification culture. On “Terrified of Love”, Öhman arguably goes to an even more vulnerable place. The raw pop song, which feels like Sufjan Stevens meets the Scissor Sisters, sees the singer conceding: “Every night there is a struggle against my demons.”
“Too Blue” is arguably the highlight here, the futuristic disco track acting as a vibrant shot of serotonin. Öhman is fearless in sharing his weaknesses. Of “Too Blue”, he notes: “That song is about being vulnerable. What I noticed growing up, and growing forward from 22 to 27, is the power in people being vulnerable together. I know I can help people by talking about depression so that’s my driver in terms of doing all of this! I really love it when my music prompts my fans to open up about their problems too.”
He tells me that the EP’s powerful lyrics are supposed to symbolise how a lot of internet addiction is fuelled by the insecurity of its users, and Mountain Bird hopes that his music can act as a sort of “group therapy” for listeners. Now 27, Öhman has been makingmusic since he was a teenager, a time when creating songs was a tonic for dealing with anxiety and depression after the divorce of his parents. Initially inspired by bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, and Explosions in the Sky, Öhman’s says that, back then, music provided him with escapism; this is something he now wants to provide for others.
“I wrote these songs for stadiums, and the idea is that by talking about such sensitive subjects, I can encourage young people to cathartically talk about their fears around the internet too,” Öhman explains. “It is in our nature to be eaten up by our need for confirmation and I want people to consider whether the internet is really bringing out the best in us. If one person can feel stronger or more free to discuss their fears around cultivating an online identity or feel free from all those digital pressures by listening to my song then my mission is complete.”
Yet this EP should also not be seen totally as an anti-internet statement. The glistening synths and stamping Queen-esque bass of “It Won’t Be Easy” and the eccentric electro pop theatrics of “Something Wrong With My Mind” show an optimism is still underpinning things, and that the artist is capable of finding light amid the darkness. “The colours and the community that the internet gives us are beautiful things, and I wanted that joy to come across in the music too.This EP is about showing all of the different sides of the internet in the hope that it will make people make much more informed decisions about their relationship with it.”
Looking ahead to the future, Öhman says his goal is to have a similar kind of career elevation to bands like 21 Pilots and The 1975. He likes that they make music you can simultaneously dance and think along to, and believes that the music of Mountain Bird can take people on a similar journey. “Yes, they are big commercial acts, but their music is tapping into important issues and giving people the confidence to speak out,” he adds. “At times, it can sound like bubblegum pop, but if you look deeper there’s a grown up dimension to it.“
They show that having a bubbly pop song with a strong chorus doesn’t mean you can’t have social awareness. There might be big problems with the world, but it’s still important to dance, even when these problems are fresh in your memory. Those two bands do that so well and I believe my music does too.”
As for the final on his new Once We Were PresentEP? “So many people are terrified of the idea of love because they’re so filled with hate, and the internet is one of the things fuelling this,” he concludes. “I just hope I can show people an alternate path and that there’s so much more to life than getting lost in our online identities.”
This project is a manifestation of all the techniques Öhman has learned since experimenting in his school studio as a teenager. It’s an explosion of genre, emotion and intelligence. It feels like an artist who has finally found his sound, and you sense that this is only just the beginning.