Please Note: The following music not to be consumed by those without a sense of humor about love and its discontents. Consider yourself forewarned.
To paraphrase a friend, Jens Lekman‘s music isn’t going to change the world. In fact, it probably won’t even bring about any personal epiphanies other that a shared recognition of past bitter break ups and heart break. However, unlike many songwriters, Jens composes his narratives of the amorously despondent or the lovelorn piners with an amusingly witty and pleasingly sardonic take on the world. With his newest collection of songs, I Know What Love Isn’t, Jens continues his mission to bring the lonely-hearted and demure some cheer amidst the heartache. Set to the sweet and somber tones of Indie-Baroque pop, blending Burt Bacharach lounge with a late 70s jazzy-soulful vibe and a hint of 70s James Taylor, Lekman’s sound is unabashedly poppy, sweet, and anachronistic. In other words, this is an album that, musically speaking, your parents (or at least mine because they were born in the 30s) might enjoy more than you on first listen. Perhaps it is a little precious and polished, but don’t write off Jens because his music isn’t aurally edge-y and/or feels old-time-y. What Jens lacks in sonic “pizzazz” is made up by a sommelier like knack for perfectly pairing melody and production to sentiment. On “Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder”, note the brilliantly placed sound of water dripping and melancholy sax near the song’s end, a genius way of illustrating in sound the emotionally draining recognition that the adored lover no longer desires you in their life. The simplicity and starkness of the song is chilling and the central simile of the song, the discarded lover as dandruff on one’s shoulder, is apt and yet masterfully mundane. Or, take in the Spanish infused and “exotic” opening guitar chords of “Erica America” about an alluring yet unattainable distant love.
But, it’s not all about the depths of despair, Jens certainly has the ability to add upbeat melodies and a battered optimist’s perspective on the world and love, see “The World Moves On” (note the narrator looking at the rising sun as the promise of another day, another love), “The End of the World is Bigger Than Love” (title says it all), and “I Know What Love Isn’t” (chatting with his friend about ‘scoping out ladies in his own quirky way). Although I adore the melodies, its Jens clever lyricism and colorful storytelling that has always impressed me the most, and to think he’s doing it in his second language is even more amazing. In case you can’t tell, Jens is Swedish by birth. If you listen closely, you’ll notice his unique pronunciation of words like “lover” as “luber”, which sounds (fittingly) a whole lot like “flubber”, as in I really “flubbed that love(r)” (not to be confused with the bounce inducing substance from The Absent Minded Professor). By the album’s end, your heart won’t be mended, your worldview likely still intact, but you’ll have spent 38 minutes smirking and nodding in agreement about the profound comedy that is life…and love or what it isn’t.
If you are ready for some melodious mirth, then listen to Jens Lekman’s I Know What Love Isn’t, and pay attention for these Jens Gems (or Truisms about broken hearts):
- I wish I’d never met you like I wish I’d never tasted wine or tasted it from lips that weren’t mine
- Sleeping on my arm until it become someone else’s
- In my next dream, I want a pair of cowboy boots, that kind that walks the straight and most narrow route, anywhere but back to you
- You don’t get over a broken heart, you just learn to carry it gracefully
- That’s what it like when you’ve had your heart broken, the world just shrugs it’s shoulder and keeps going
- No one is born an asshole, it takes a lot of hard work
- Let’s get married, but only for the citizenship
- A relationship doesn’t lie about its intentions and shit, how it doesn’t apologize or anthologize all the rules and ideas we made up in our heads
For more of the Swedish singer’s genius, follow up this aperitif with Jens Lekman’s Night Falls Over Kortedala. If you think I Know What Love Isn’t is musically saccharine, Night… is like a banana split of endless ear candy; more Bacharach and baroque with a healthy splash of disco (after all, he is Swedish so there’s got to be a little Abba lodged in the musical subconscious). Although the whole record is gorgeously crafted, highlights include “Your Arms Around Me” (the melody line sounds a whole lot like R.E.M.’s “Near Wild Heaven”), “A Postcard to Nina” (the story of boy pretending to be his girl friend’s partner to her parents who is hiding her female lover abroad), or “Sipping on the Sweet Nectar” (get out your go-go boots and dance).