J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Monday, November 26, 2007

Now Departing:
Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala

Jens Lekman
Night Falls Over Kortedala
(Secretly Canadian ; 2007)

"Well..can I tell you what I really think?"

I'm driving to dinner and listening to Night Falls Over Kortedala. About one and a half songs into the record, this is what I hear. "Sure," I say.

"It's awful. It's hokey and just..I really don't like it." I nod, in recognition of the statement, and I keep driving. On the way back home, it's a mix of Replacements songs instead.

I can easily understand the aforementioned opinion about Jens Lekman. He traffics in musical styles that are decidedly not hip and not influential. His records are not easily identifiable with the mid-'00s. They sound dated, slightly cheesy and like nothing else even closely connected with the larger ideas of indie-music at this point in time. But he also immediately reminds me of two specific songwriters that came before him - possible influences on his own style: Scott Walker and Jarvis Cocker. And it's those two names that make me walk away from this album thinking it one of the best of this year.

The album starts off somewhat moody and slow. "And I Remember Every Kiss" is orchestrated, bombastic pop - all strings and dramatic timpanies. It's this dramatic structure that recalls Walker's work, from past to present day. The lyrics and crooning voice - somewhat odd and melodramatic - are what recall Cocker's influence. The dramatic, emotive-yet-detached tenor sails through the song's build and retreat. The song sets a thematic tone for the rest of the album, leading into "Sipping on the Sweet Nectar"'s recall of the first song's focus on first kisses. The salsa-inspired percussive breaks dash through the baroque-pop flourishes and turns the album's mood on its head.

The infectious "The Opposite of Hallelujah" is the first track to really start to swing - pounding girl-group drums and piano licks start to show the exact diversity of the mainstream, disposable pop aesthetic that Lekman harnesses for most of his work. It's this refined, warped take on traditionally temporary pop that makes Lekman's music stand out. The bridge of "The Opposite.." speeds and warps the time signature in random fits, taking the song into odd bursts and swells, all the time never losing the song's steady rush. The following "A Postcard to Nina" uses the same trick amongst its classic r&b sounding structure. The lyrics' quirky subject matter (they seem to relate Lekman's stint as a 'beard' for his lesbian friend in front of her parents) creates a much more light-hearted take on what would normally sound like a traditional love-lorn early-Motown song.

The record keeps its thrilling rush through most of the rest of the album. "I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You" recalls "The Opposite..." in its harnessing of girl-pop traits, but inserts electronic bass and skittering drum elements, in addition to what resemble sped-up soul-vocal samples (someone listening to 9th Wonder's work?), all amounting to a delirious portrait of a failed love. "Your Arms Around Me" contains a guitar line that recalls The La's "There She Goes" buried beneath the surging string section common to so much of this record - but here, combined with a guitar line that is unique in the record's sound, it creates the album's most moving piece - a surging, five-minute heart-breaker of a song.

The only mis-step on the album, and really this is more about placement than the song itself, is the closer, "Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo." Clever, upbeat and funny, it doesn't give what feels like the proper finish to a record that starts off with such a grand, introductory statement. It's a sin of style, not substance, and I'm not sure what I would recommend in its place, so I won't hold it against the album.

Much like the works of Scott Walker and Jarvis Cocker, I can't imagine anyone coming in and feeling lukewarm about Jens Lekman - he's either an anachronistic goof or so well-versed in the school of pop construction that his creations are far ahead of everyone else, impenetrable to the majority of music listeners. Night Falls Over Kortedala is without a doubt one of this year's most unique albums and, in my opinion, also one of its best.

Rating: A(udiophilic) / E(xcellent)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Jens Lekman - "The Opposite of Hallelujah"

Jens Lekman - "Your Arms Around Me"

Jens Lekman - "Shirin"

Download Night Falls Over Kortedala from EMusic.

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  • At 1:47 PM, November 26, 2007, Anonymous S. said…

    You seem to have inadvertently left off my designation of Jens Lekman as "a female version of Enya," my comparison of him to Sting, and my suggestion that he'd be well-suited to PBS fundraising drives and well-enjoyed by my grandparents, who are old and whose senses have been dulled. However ill-considered and wrong such commentary may be. (double post? i hope not.)

  • At 1:52 AM, November 27, 2007, Blogger Eduardo Osorio said…

    I fall in love with Lekman this year. The only Scott Walker I've listened is the one he released last year and didn't like it at all. Don't hear the influences. I guess you mean his old stuff. I'll check it out, if I have enough money next time I go to the record store ;)

  • At 10:57 PM, December 12, 2007, Anonymous sarae said…

    Usually I read your reviews and then decide if I want to listen to the songs, but for some reason (maybe it was the crazy-awesome name?) I started listening to a track while reading. Don't know about Scott Walker, but the Jarvis Cocker is spot-on. These three songs haunted me until I went out and bought the album yesterday.

    (If this gets posted twice, it's only because your comments hate me. That, or maybe I am a failure at non-word verification)


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