In homage to Lekman's nontraditional approach, a review in three formats:
lift / fall
In The Opposite of Hallelujah, when that ditty-pop piano starts playing under those weightless staccato strings, I feel as if little clouds of joy are jutting under my feet as I skip up into the sun-drenched ether. Such ridiculous, fantastical reverie is exactly the kind of thing this album evokes!
I like Jens's voice; he sounds nothing like Barry Manilow!
Lekman, or the character that he plays, is perfect for his music's dual tragicomic nature (someone else came up with this term, I'm sorry but I don't remember who). He's the seamless combination of rigidly obedient reformatory student and the ludicrous, somewhat self-deprecating class clown, that everybody can't help but like. His hair, the way he carries himself, his voice, and his music all contrast sharply with his lyrics. He writes songs about heartbreak and awkward situations in a comical (sarcastic, absurd, clever, hilarious) way. He's created something so unique in his work because very few have ever thought to combine the elements he does, while nobody has done it so likably.
explosions of horns and strings set the tone for the record in the idealistic "and i remember every kiss," in which he explains, "and i would never kiss anyone, who doesn't burn me like the sun..." i love that line. actually makes me think about my life and whether or not this is even remotely possible to achieve.
"sipping on the sweet nectar" is delightfully upbeat, and the minor key choruses simultaneously unsettle and uplift.
"the opposite of hallelujah" could be heartbreaking, but jens won't allow this, not in his music. honest, pessimistic, underlyingly sad lyrics lightly situated over upbeat, jubilant music = lekman coping by at once coming to terms with lyrically but denying artistically the existence of despair, doubt, and disappointment.
"a postcard to nina" is one of my favorite tracks this year. disclaimer-->this is NOT for everyone: i've encountered some pretty negative reactions to this album and this song, while others profess its utter brilliance...me being in the latter camp, of course, this song is incredibly clever, hilarious, and pleasing to the ear, especially for a narrative. (first chorus: "oh, god! jesus christ! i try to focus on your eyes. we're having dinner with your family now, keep a steady look at your left eyebrow. if it's raised, it means yes, if it's not, it means 'take a guess.' hey! you! stop kicking my legs, i'm doing my best, can you pass the figs?") it's the ostensibly true story about his friend nina, who's a lesbian, whose father is a traditional catholic man, whose friend jens lekman acts as her boyfriend so that she can be with her girlfriend. it is a perfect song in so many ways.
"into eternity" provides an interesting dissonance generated by slightly off-key accordian vs. recorder, offset by lekman's dreamily smooth vocals.
"i'm leaving you because i don't love you" is a bit of a diversion, utilizing some electronic synths and samplings which were previously unheard in the album, so obviously anyway.
perhaps the barry manilow comparisons arise from "if i could cry (it would feel like this)", in the high-pitched, wavy strings and especially the backing vocals...this would be the most repetitive of the tracks, one of the ones i skip over sometimes.
"your arms around me" is a perfect pop song, and it gets me moving. instrumentation is slightly more conventional, as is the songwriting (not the lyrics, but the verses and choruses are more distinct here), still undeniably lekman. his voice is the focal point in this track.
ditto for "shirin", but this song has a completely different feel. that's one of the album's virtues: each song, while remaining unmistakably lekman in overall sound, sound much different from the rest--that's a sign of real, voracious creativity. anyway, shirin is much more airy: lighter in feeling, and the lyrics contribute to this considerably, almost onomatopoeically, as the chorus goes, shirin, shirin, shirin, shirin, shirin, down and up and down as if gliding through the air. he comes back down to the ground, treading lightly, for the verses. it's a pleasing little rollercoaster.
"it was a strange time in my life" is pretty strange, probably the butt of any jokes dissenters of the album will make; starts out with some young child "do doo do do doo," over a trilling flute and/or recorder. but when lekman starts going on about some of the weirdest happenings in his what-must-have-been-incredibly-awkward adolescence, the humor makes the song worth it.
"kanske Är jag Kär i dig", the only song title to employ his native swedish, is still in english, and the chorus, gentle inflections of "ooo's" and "ah's" only, comes between verses that contain various snippets from who-knows-what, seemingly nonsensical, stream-of-consciousness ramblings, which lekman no doubt acknowledges, "this has of course nothing to do with anything, i just get so nervous when i'm talking to you, all i think about everyday is just kissing you, you know that feeling that feels so refreshingly new," and into the chorus that actually makes the listener feel refreshed. well done jens.
"friday night at the drive-in bingo" is some of the most fun on this album. so much fun, that every time this song comes on, my fingers start snapping, my arms start moving, and my feet start stomping (because I CAN DANCE!). his singing gets faster as it goes on, and he incorporates a retro-sounding saxophone for the chorus, which melds perfectly with the story of finding some drive-in bingo, in the middle of nowhere, with, of course, old people. *sigh* if only I could live like you, jens.
If you like him, check out these tasty links (his official website has some free tracks-"presents"-and a link to his myspace, a diary, among other amusing things):
Jens Lekman Strips Down for the Interface