Tuesday, September 11th, 2012
The End Of The World Is Bigger Than Love
Review of Jens Lekman’s I Know What Love Isn’t
Kristen LidellMany adjectives can and have been used to describe the songwriting of Swedish troubadour Jens Lekman – wry, witty, classic, charming, hilarious, to list but a very few – but “personal” is not necessarily one of the first you’d use. He’s a masterful storyteller in song, and no doubt the seeds of many of his songs come from his own life experiences or observations, but in crafting his perfect little narratives he’s usually able to distance himself from them, always a character whether he’s operating in the third person or the first. This isn’t any sort of condemnation – I’d not want “A Letter To Nina” or “You Are The Light” any other way – but is necessary to point out to understand why his third proper album, I Know What Love Isn’t, feels subtly but significatly different.
On the surface, it’s not dissimilar to his earlier efforts. Lightly but exquisitely arranged orchestral pop, albeit better-recorded this time out, and a suite of songs filled with witty couplets, brilliant plays on words, and songs about and to girls. But while the female leads in his tales have a number of different names – Danae, Catherine, Samantha, Erica, Jennifer, take a bow – there’s a sense they’re all perspectives of the same woman. As the album title implies, What Love Isn’t is a break-up album and whether Lekman sought to only use the failed romance as inspiration and not fuel is known only to him, that sadness sublimates its way into the entire record and makes the fourth wall translucent, giving it an emotional potency that his other records can’t lay claim to.
Opening with the simple, piano-led instrumental “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name” – reprised in vocal form to close the record – the front end of Love finds Lekman indulging his more emo side. Lead single “Erica America” is a smoky, jazzy piece equally tinged with nostalgia and regret and while “Become Someone Else’s” brightens up marginally thanks to a chipper piano line, it and “She Just Doesn’t Want To Be With You Anymore” wear their sentiments openly in their titles. It would be understandable for Lekman to choose to inhabit this end of the musical spectrum to work through things, but also overly obvious. And heavens forfend Lekman be obvious.
It turns out he’s playing the (relatively) long game with this record, allowing it to gradually build in tempo, and brighten in outlook as it progresses and by the time it reaches the triumvirate of “The World Moves On”, “The End Of The World Is Bigger Than Love”, and “I Know What Love Isn’t”, it’s Lekman at his best, spinning vignettes and telling tales over some of his most indelible melodies, memorable choruses, and richest arrangements to date, all combining for his most cohesive and satisfying album yet. I Know What Love Isn’t may sound like a typically Lekman play on words, but it also speaks to a truth of lessons learned the hard way – the couplet “you don’t get over a broken heart/you just learn to carry it gracefully” from “The World Moves On” is the album’s thesis and triumph, and while you don’t have to have had your heart broken to appreciate it, but it doesn’t hurt.
Rolling Stone, Exclaim, DIY, Tiny Mix Tapes, eMusic, RCRDLBL, and Interview, The Quietus talk to Lekman about his new record, while The Line Of Best Fit and Pitchfork also cajole a video session. Lekman is at The Phoenix on October 4.
Stream: Taken By Trees – “Large”
Maria Lindén of I Break Horses gives DIY some insight to where she’s headed with album number two. Room 205 has also posted the first installment of a video session with the band that gives you an idea of what the live incarnation of the band sounds like (awesome). The next two will follow over the next fortnight.
4AD has announced the signing of Denmark’s Søen Løkke Juul – aka Indians – by way of a 4AD Session. Their full-length debut won’t be out until early in the new year, but he and his band will introduce themselves at The Horseshoe on November 23 in support of Other Lives.
Nick Cave is still in screenwriter mode, but in discussing Lawless conversation inevitably turns to music and it’s been confirmed that a new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album is already complete and is due out in February of next year. Exclaim has some details.