“What today seems like insanity, tomorrow might be reality…”

Agnes is no stranger to the dance floor.

Arguably, she’s almost always been there: after kicking off her Idol 2005 win with her 2005 self-titled debut and follow-up Stronger a year later, she found her footing with 2008’s euphoric dance-pop foray Dance Love Pop, including lead single “On & On” and the soaring, string-laden global smash of a re-leeeee-ase you surely know and love her best for, “Release Me.”

A few years later, she dug deeper still onto the dance floor with 2012’s incredible Veritas, and took a few years off to regroup and refocus before returning with the entrancing Nothing Can Compare EP in 2019, a more experimental offering, inspired by Donna Summer and Paris Is Burning, that showcased an artist still in transition.

But with her fifth studio album Magic Still Exists, released Friday (October 22), the Swedish vocal powerhouse has never sounded so sure of exactly who and where she’s meant to be right now.

The tight set of 11 tracks – four of which are interludes, which truthfully makes this more of an EP – arrives ahead of a series of singles: last year’s “Fingers Crossed” set the tone for the sound of the rest of the record; a kind of ecstatic dance floor devotional – or, in her own words, “spiritual disco.”

“Disco for me – it’s the sound of being free…even though it can be sad, it can be dark, it always has this kind of uplifting thing around it…it’s like you stand on top of a mountain, you feel like the wind in your hair,” she told MuuMuse last year.

“You want to be free, you want to express yourself, and I think when people are free and do what they are supposed to do, you vibrate on another level, and that’s what you’re supposed to do.”

Agnes began to carve out more of the record, influenced by acts like Giorgio Moroder, Sun Ra and Sylvester, with a throbbing emancipation anthem of a follow-up in the form of “24 Hours” – one of the year’s best songs, easily. “Here Comes the Night” came next, with an invitation to the after-hours for the dreamers across a ABBA-esque synth flare.

With track titles like “Spiritual Awakening,” “The Soul Has No Gender” and “Love & Appreciation,” Magic could come across as cliché as “Live, Love, Laugh” scrawled across a disco ball.

Instead, the inclusive sentiments throughout the record ring thoroughly sincere, recalling all the best pop queen messaging from past decades, from Madonna‘s “Express Yourself” to Kelis‘ “Emancipate.”

The hypnotic “XX,” complete with Daft Punk vocoders, feels like the shimmering final project from a graduate of Confessions on a Dance Floor University, while the strutting, space-age “Selfmade” recalls dance floor commanders Róisín Murphy, Grace Jones and Giorgio Moroder, as she barks out declarations across an “I Feel Love”-esque beat – “We live every minute, delete and replace / It’s all or nothing!” – before a slow drift outward into the cosmos.

“Love & Appreciation,” meanwhile, is the album’s most joyous and euphoric singalong, full of soulful, uplifting crooning – “sweeeeet love and good vibrations,” specifically – as the distant sound of a raucous party pumps through the speakers.

That competition-winning voice is just as sturdy, emotive and impressive as ever, captured best in the record’s final moments on “Magic Still Exists,” the sole slow moment, as she powerfully belts affirmation after affirmation across a piano: “Free your mind and free your body,” she repeats like a mantra.

For all the nights you were the last one to go home, not ’cause you’re lonely, you’re just holding onto hope,” she declares on the toast to life. “We don’t have to close our eyes and make a wish, with you I know that magic still exists.

Magic Still Exists is a collection of epiphanies about what it means to be human and our need to constantly search for something bigger, something more. The album was made together with friends and the process has therefore been very intimate. Something that made me relax, let go and have fun with it,” she says of the album.

2021 will go down as one weird gray area; a year of rocky transition, with stop-start efforts to safely reopen as the world grapples with getting used to whatever the “New Normal” is meant to look like amid a pandemic with no clear end in sight. It’s easy to feel lost, discouraged and hopeless.

Agnes’ Magic Still Exists is a warm bout of ecstatic encouragement in an uncertain world. (And yes, it could have been a few more songs longer.)

Like the very best of 2020’s dance records during more severe stages of lockdown – Lady Gaga‘s Chromatica, Kylie Minogue‘s Disco, Jessie Ware‘s What’s Your Pleasure? and Dua Lipa‘s Future Nostalgia, among others – the transportive record is a standout of the year, full of familiar sonic references provoking nostalgia for better days, and pulsating prayers for nights still to come.

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Photo credit: Fredrik Etoal

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Publisher: Bradley Stern