Friday, September 23, 2011

Album Review: An Argument With Myself [EP] - Jens Lekman

How did I miss Jens Lekman? I mean, I've had autumnal favorite "Maple Leaves" on my mp3 player for at least a couple of years and I'd been hearing his name even before then. I have a few friends who are big fans and every description I ever heard of him seemed promising. Yet until just a few weeks ago, I'd never heard more than one song by the man. It's not like I was slacking or wasting my time, there's just more good music out there in the world than even a dedicated enthusiast can possibly process.

In a world where almost any song or information is available at our fingertips and three bloggers and a webzine have already loved, gotten bored with and rediscovered every new band before you hear about them, it's easy to lose sight of the joy of discovery that makes loving music so rewarding. Between the scads of new groups who all sound so interesting when I hear about them and the seminal bands that I never knew I'd missed out on hearing, I have an ever-expanding pile of music that I know I should listen to that I never quite seem to have enough time to get around to. Occasionally I find it impossible to listen to something new without drifting away in thought about what else I need to remember to listen to.

It's precisely this problem that makes stumbling onto a Jens Lekman so exciting. Delving into his work has been a rare joy of finding an artist with a deep but limited body of work that perfectly attacks my pleasure centers and creates its own audio world. I have to admit that I gobbled up Oh You're So Silent Jens on my first few listens and have been incredibly excited with my one run through of Night Falls On Kortedala. But what's really exciting is how I've just been losing myself in Lekman's music. I'll find myself humming a song I've only heard once and going out of my way to extend drives to hear an extra song. Jens Lekman has managed to fully and immediately cut through all my distractions and multitasking abilities and made my most recent car rides experiences in living simply in the moment.

It is with this limited but enthusiastic background that I approached Lekman's new EP, An Argument With Myself. The song that I've been initially hung up on and the record highlight thus far is easily "Waiting For Kirsten". I know I sound like every other awe-struck reviewer here, but honestly who else could turn a real (or imagined?) story about trying to meet Kirsten Dunst into a self-deprecating defense of Swedish humbleness and social justice? In the song Lekman hears that Dunst is in town filming a move and gets rebuffed from a club. He chides her in his head, telling her, "in Gotenburg we don't have VIP lines... / we don't make a fuss about who you are". He never sounds smug or judgmental, he's just a local guy trying to meet an American celebrity who needs guidance in stepping into a world of different priorities. 

Lekman goes even further, telling Dunst that "the VIP lines are not to clubs / but to healthcare, apartments and jobs" and it just all sounds so lovely that you want to jump up, hug the singer and jet off to his socialist dreamworld. By the end of the song he's reduced to drinking outside her hotel and turning that drunken courage into an attempt to leave a message for the actress written in his friend's girlfriend's lipstick. Every detail of the story is so precise and so well-backed by swelling strings, finger-picked violins and a bouncy beat that when it suddenly ends on Lekman's musically unresolved, minor-chord report that "the receptionist said that I was drunk / and asked me to leave" you're surprised to find yourself lost in the story and sound the ending jerks you out of your revelry.

I have to admit that one of the Lekman's great appeals has been his picturesque musical and lyrical rendering of his hometown Gothenburg. So it's a bit of a jarring for me to see him elsewhere on the record embracing world music and singing about his new life in Australia. But songs like the lead title track shows that geography isn't the key to his success. "An Argument With Myself" draws on zydeco and reggae influences while Lekman spins a tale of a night out in Melbourne. The experience of feeling alone in a foreign land is well-translated into song here while the sing-spoken interlude is brilliant. His delivery of the mock argument lines "nah, I don't wanna talk to you / OK, you wanna keep fighting? / yeah, we can keep on fighting" is so well-done that I'll actually laugh each time I hear it.

Although the first two songs carry the recording, there's enough heart and technical prowess scattered throughout the EP to make it a great, albeit perhaps slight, document. "A Promise" starts with monarchical horns that channel the intro to "All You Need Is Love" before shifting into lightly funky dance pop, a sweet sax backing and Lekman's advice to a terminally ill friend that involves a great deal of Chilean wine. "New Directions" starts slow but by the time the backing horns hit their cues and the bass is lined up, everything falls into place, while "So This Guy Office" closes things out with classic Lekman lyrical vérité (plus, you know, reggae influences). The song starts with him listing mundane complaints about a coworker they way we've all be wont to do after a hard day. Halfway through though, he catches himself, apologizes for babbling and starts asking his girlfriend about her day. It's a charming lyrical twist to end a charming EP.

An Argument is a worthy addition to a catalog I feel lucky to say that I'm just starting to fully delve into. Hopefully it will be a teaser for the rumored new album this year, but even if it isn't, that's OK. This EP is a perfect drive time palate cleanser that is simultaneously exciting and soothing, with two great songs that would rank near the top of many songwriter's career list. You always feel like Jens is worried about falling behind and not enjoying life, so it's only fitting that they're most recent release is one that's helped me stop and finally smell the goddamn roses!

You know what? They smell amazing.

An Argument With Myself - Jens Lekman  Buy An Argument With Myself [EP].
Waiting For Kirsten - Jens Lekman  

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