Ulrik Munther is the first to admit that self-doubt can get the better of him. But you might be daunted too if you were about to release the most honest and thought-provoking work of your career.

At just 27, Munther is already a seasoned artist with years of industry experience. Signed as a teenager to Universal Music in Sweden after winning the prestigious Melody Grand Prix Nordic competition with an original song, he also achieved viral fame with his endearing cover of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”. Three albums followed, all charting in the top five in Munther’s home country. “I grew up in the public eye… I was sort of a teen idol,” he says, wincing a little at the term. “I’ve been seeking an audience that digs a bit deeper into lyrics and has more of the same shared world view.” He adds, laughing: “I want to make new friends!”

Fans of Munther’s old music would have trouble recognising him now. His new album, Put Your Self Out There, is an astounding work that shows a young man grown wise from experience, but one who is still deeply curious about the world. Munther has a philosophical mind. He thrives on ideas, and on a willingness to challenge and be challenged on important subjects. This music shows him standing on the edge, ready to set sail on a new adventure.

“What I want to say most with this music is probably, be yourself and be honest,” he says from his home in Gothenburg. “To think about things a little more.” While he always knew he wanted to create music, his introduction to the industry at such a young age meant that he was, perhaps, steered in a direction that didn’t quite fit. “At that age you’re very impressionable,” he says, nodding. “It’s easier to trust someone older than to trust yourself.” Feeling somewhat jaded, he took a break from his flourishing pop career and began writing with renowned Swedish author and comedian Jonas Gardell. This marked the first step towards the most personal project of his career to date. “I want this album to lay a foundation I can build on,” he says.

Listeners will recognise the clear influence of Bon Iver in the quirky opener, “Apartment Girl”, on which Munther’s voice appears distorted, both youthful and brittle with experience. Album single “C’est La Vie” is an uplifting track that has the narrator pushing aside his fear of the unknown and embracing a newfound optimism: “I’m cleaning out my closet/ Some I’ll keep but some I’ll toss and/ That’s alright you know, gonna have to let things go/ Say goodbye, say hello.” It’s a feeling that Munther knows all too well. “I’m quite introverted, and I have a tendency to get stuck in my own head,” he says. “But if you overthink things too much, you’ll never do anything with your life.”

Put Your Self Out There has, ironically, a distinctly insular feel, providing the sense that Munther has created his own world in which to express himself. Despite this, the music itself is expansive, bringing to mind a landscape painting where, the closer you look, the more detail you discover. This was achieved with the help of a tightknit team that includes producer Johan Eckeborn (known especially for his work on Swedish artist Jonathan Johansson’s critically acclaimed record, En Hand I Himlen). They found themselves discussing philosophy and religion alongside music, and Munther took on new ideas that were fed into these songs. “We’re in a strange climate right now, where we tend to want to find people with the exact same values as us,” he says. “But if you judge others, you judge yourself. That’s something that’s really sunk in, in the last couple of years. I’m trying to be a lot more open-minded, and I think that’s what I’m trying to inspire people to be as well.”

Munther’s ability to express himself transpires in his bruised but stoic music; the piercing, emotional tones of his voice are heightened by deftly constructed compositions. “Don’t Worry” opens on a soft flurry of piano notes falling like autumn leaves. You hear the sharp, steady clack of the percussion, a clock hand announcing the inevitable passing of time. An infinitesimal change in tempo marks a resolution to be swept up, as Munther delivers the title in a soaring falsetto then a comforting murmur until it becomes a mantra. “Gloom” is his letter to himself – a disarmingly candid one – in which he questions what’s left once the trappings of fame and fortune are removed. As the song reaches the close, his voice becomes muffled, yet the synths push through, like rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds. “I’ll meet you at the summit,” he promises. “When I’m out of this gloom.”

Throughout the album, Munther reminds us that we can be our own worst critics. Yet he takes his own advice and never obsesses over making this music “perfect” – as a consequence, he achieves something very close to it. The songs are beautiful precisely because of their flaws, recalling the experimental nature of Ben Howard’s most recent, and best, work. Sufjan Stevens fans will revel in the succinctness of Munther’s lyrics, the frankness of his declarations. “It’s not as complicated as I tend to make it,” he sings on the gospel-influenced “Man in Need”, “But I overthink everyf***ing thing.”

“I’m trying to be very honest,” he says. “Not in a dramatic way, but reflective. And I definitely didn’t want the music to sound too polished.” To avoid the risk of overwhelming his audience with such candour, Munther injects a wry tone into some of the songs, such as the self-aware closer, “Come Find Me”. Others are misnomers designed to surprise the listener, or even provoke them into a new way of thinking. The memorably titled “Big Dick” was the last song to be written during sessions at a studio based just outside of Stockholm. Munther found himself on a train observing a man and his girlfriend: “He was a really cocky guy, the crotch-first type, you know?” Rather than mock him, Munther chose instead to pen a tender acoustic number that seeks to understand what some might dismiss as toxic masculinity. “There are too many walls/ And I don’t have the tools or a number you can call,” he sings.

“This song came from the knowledge that there are so many people you can’t reach, you can’t get through to them,” Munther explains. “These people who feel they have to be smart, the ones who place value in material things. They’re often actually very insecure.” At the time, he recalled the saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” He still thinks about it. “People who need to show off, they must be so lonely,” he says. “Not able to be vulnerable, or be wrong.” Watching this man provoked feelings of frustration in Munther, not at the man himself, but at a society that, despite all its modern methods of communication, often fails to do precisely that. As a multilingual musician, Munther knows all too well the frustrations of feeling unable to translate his innermost feelings. Yet he refuses to preach: “I’m so aware that everything I know, I’ve learned from someone else.” The album title is a cliché for a reason, he says, smiling. “I just want to be courageous enough to have hope.”

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