Thematically, music can take on a near infinite number of forms. Occasionally, you may be in the mood for some that will dig your brain a bit. Other times, you may want something to make you smile, get up and dance, and lift your spirits. Or maybe something poignant to tug your heartstrings a bit. The latest record from Swedish musician Jens Lekman, “Life Will See You Now,” will hit all of these notes, and a few more.
Lekman has been making his mark on the indie pop landscape for years now. His big break came with his second album “Night Falls Over Kortedala” in 2007, a record lush with layered, exotic instrumentations, witty anecdotes, and outright beauty throughout. It was named one of the best records of the year by several publications, and has since been regarded as one of the best albums of the 2000s. Lekman’s follow-up, “I Know What Love Isn’t” carried on that sound, but with a sharper sense of solemnity, as it came to fruition at the heels of a breakup.
“Life Will See You Know,” Lekman’s first new album in five years never deviates far from the signature style he is most known for, but it reinvents it in new ways. The pop in indie pop is emphasized this time around, with Lekman focusing on dance-heavy beat grooves and infectious high-key melodies. From the album-opener, “To Know Your Mission,” it’s clear that Lekman definitely has not lost his lyrical prowess over the years. “I just want to hear people’s stories / Hear what they have to say,” he croons with his endearing Swedish accent. “My friends say ‘just be a shrink then’ / But I don’t know, I don’t think I’ll have the grades.” The track is certainly catchy and joyous, if the instrumentation feels a bit overcrowded and silly, a problem that nags throughout the album.
Songs like “Evening Prayer” are the highlights of the album. A rock-solid track of sampled “do-do-dos” give the flavor of disco, and strangely contrasting lyrics on 3-D printing a model of a tumor. The uproariously jubilant instrumentation mixed with the oddly cryptic lyrics are an excellent highlight of the clever irony that Lekman can pull off so well. Another great example is “Our First Fight” which recounts a sharp argument with a significant other, and the following resolution over a soothing, warm, subdued guitar line. It’s songs like this where the music is more grounded that “Life Will See You Now” really shines.
There are a number of other highlights as well. “Wedding in Finistere” is a wonderfully catchy, samba-esque tune on how people of a certain age view those older than them. The lead single “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?” is an enjoyable cacophony of steel drums, but it highlights the issues of the album as well. The track bounces from Caribbean dance, to soothing strings, and electronic so sporadically it could give you whiplash. “How We Met, the Long Version” is another track that struggles with this. The otherwise quite humorous song (So titled because he begins at the big bang and moves through the stages of evolution. Long version, indeed.) is hampered a bit by the busy, busy instrumentation. It seems as if Lekman had gathered a number of styles to use of the past several years and decided to simply throw them all in together in a flavorful and tasty, if occasionally too rich, stew.
The album ends on subdued and poignant note, as though the energetic dance party of the earlier half of the album is beginning to wind down, and it works in the album’s favor. “How Can I tell Him” sounds like it could have been pulled from one of his earlier albums. It’s a sweet and somber track that furthers Lekman’s ability to tell a lovely story within only a few minutes.
“Life Will See You Now” may bite off more than it can chew at times, and come off as bloated, but what it occasionally lacks in subtlety it makes up for in sheer charm. So much of the music in this record is pure, concentrated joy. It’s clear the long gap between albums hasn’t hampered Lekman’s abilities as a songwriter either. From sentimental ballads to catchy jams, strings to samba, and wit to spare, you will be getting the full course out of this record. And how tasty it is.