Many emotions are conveyed through Swedish indie pop songwriter Jens Lekman’s music, but the underlying theme is one of melancholia. Lekman has established an approach to songwriting involving fun, sanguine, theatrical pop music juxtaposed with his nostalgic, witty and often-times heartbreaking lyrical themes, concerning everything from the mundane to the universal. Indeed, many a listener might not be sure whether they should be listening to Lekman’s music with a big, wide grin or tears running down their face and it’s likely that one will experience both at some point on the singer’s new album, Life Will See You Now. As the title may suggest, Lekman deals with many aspects of ordinary life on his latest undertaking, as he always has, but his melodramatic personality always brings out the most interesting side of seemingly rudimentary topics, and the level of passion and emotion with which these songs are performed is likely to garner an empathetic response from many listeners. Lekman’s previous album, 2012’s I Know What Love Isn’t, was notably less vibrant than his 2007 indie pop explosion, Night Falls Over Kortedala. The singer acknowledges this on Life Will See You Now and comes through with potentially his most colourful breadth of songs to date, bringing a much more diverse and dynamic array of instruments to the table that work to complement Lekman’s theatrical sound. Interestingly, Life Will See You Now is the songwriter’s second attempt at a follow-up to I Know What Love Isn’t, with a complete album that was finished in 2014 being scrapped. Lekman’s reasoning for this was that he felt like the finalised product “sounded like [he] had given up” and so the musician set his sights on something more explorative and compelling. Between I Know What Love Isn’t and Life Will See You Now, Lekman released a new song every week on his website for free for the entire year of 2015, entitling this musical experiment Postcards, and also embarked on a project called Ghostwriting, wherein the musician composed songs based on stories submitted to him by the public. In some ways, these projects seem to have influenced Lekman’s approach to songwriting on his latest album, but in other regards, the artist has returned to a sound more akin to Night Falls Over Kortedala. Indeed, as one might expect, releasing 52 songs within a single year led to many of these songs lacking the technical detail seen on Lekman’s other material, including Life Will See You Now, but the more liberal approach to composing that was displayed on these tracks has trickled over onto this new album, to some extent. The result is an inconsistent, but no less enjoyable, record from the indie pop experimenter, with its most interesting moments capturing many of the best qualities presented on his previous studio albums, amplifying them to be more entertaining than ever before. This, coupled with Lekman’s usual dreamy, sentimental, broken-hearted lyrics, marks a welcomed return to form for the singer-songwriter, featuring some of the most charming music of his career thus far, but also some of the most questionable.
The opening track, To Know Your Mission, establishes the album’s colourful production, vibrant instrumental arrangements and almost hilariously idiosyncratic lyrics. This first song seemingly uses a Mormon missionary’s memory of where they were when Princess Diana died to reflect on life’s purpose as it varies between individuals. Many an historically accurate event or cultural reference is cited, with Lekman listing rising celebrities at the time, like Will Smith or British anarcho-pop band Chumbawumba, whose best-known single, Tubthumping, was released the year of Diana’s death. It seems that Lekman uses Princess Diana, known for her charity work, and the “mission” of a Mormon keen to spread the message of their religion as literary vehicles to contemplate what each of our individual “missions” is. The singer himself comes to a rather humble conclusion as to his own mission, that being that he wants to simply listen to other’s stories, or, as he puts it, “in a world of mouths / I want to be an ear”. Instrumentally, this is an oddly upbeat track, but with Lekman’s usual dose of melancholia. The song is introduced as a sort of piano ballad, sounding almost like a single by The Beautiful South, with the singer delivering a spotless vocal performance, and as the song progresses with more instrumentation being added, Lekman’s voice continues to sound clear and compelling, even when reaching into his falsetto range. After the introduction, there’s an odd passage that sounds like it was ripped from an EDM song, but things eventually reconvene as the second verse kicks in. To Know Your Mission certainly has one of the most memorable choruses on the record, and that’s not just because it’s incredibly catchy, but because it also sounds like a Christmas song, with its poppy, synthetic chimes and jangly tambourine that sound comically festive. Fellow Swedish singer Loulou Lamotte has a limited role providing backing vocals, but she’s much more involved in the next track, Evening Prayer, a song that seems to deal with many of life’s anxieties by using the tangible object of a tumour as a symbol for this. This cut is one of the more conventional ones in the tracklisting, in spite of the odd subject idea, as it follows a pretty conventional pop structure for the most part, although several different eras of pop music are referenced in the instrumentation. The synthetic drum fills sound like they were pulled straight from the 80s, whilst the ‘doo doo doo’ vocal part wouldn’t sound at all out of place on an average pop radio station. Ultimately, these first two cuts establish the campy, indie pop charm that Lekman uses to his music’s strength throughout much of this record.
With Lekman’s off-kilter approach to composing pop music, it’s not really a surprise to hear some songs fall slightly short of the vision he had in mind for them. For instance, despite being the lead single from Life Will See You Now, What’s That Perfume That You Wear? is a bit of a mishmash of a track. The strong, danceable groove throughout the track is peppered with wooden percussion and steelpans during the chorus that all seem to have been worked into the mix somewhat awkwardly. Lekman made it clear that he wanted to broaden his use of instrumentation on this new record, but What’s That Perfume That You Wear? comes across as a rather weak attempt to incorporate some stylistic influences originating from the Caribbean. This track also displays a much more basic approach to writing lyrics than what one could expect from Lekman at this point on the record, with the song covering the rather trite concept of a man looking back on his time with a past lover after catching a whiff of her perfume. Life Will See You Now also features a few tracks towards the backend that aren’t as explorative as Lekman’s best work. The album’s closer, Dandelion Seed, adheres to a simple structure, mainly based around an acoustic guitar lick that repeats under Lekman’s reminiscent lyrics. The arrangement’s minimal attempts at keeping things fresh by introducing more instruments work to a very limited extent, with the track still feeling like it was resigned to the album’s last moments due to how out of place it may have seemed in the midst of all the danceable pop anthems. Postcard #17, as the title suggests, is a composition lifted from Lekman’s Postcards project, which is a bold move, given the short timespan in which it was likely written. Unfortunately, however, this also feels like a relatively underwritten track as a result, with some of Lekman’s least interesting lyrics on the entire album, as well as one of the most predictable and unsatisfying structures that doesn’t catch the listener off-guard like the songwriter’s better pieces.
Ultimately, whilst there are some tracks on Life Will See You Now that don’t leave the impression on me that much of Jens Lekman’s other work does, truth be told, the good moments on this record are absolutely ravishing. The incredible performances on songs like To Know Your Mission, Wedding in Finistère and How We Met, the Long Version are absolutely captivating and it’s hard not to admire much of this record as a result. It’s typically the tracks that don’t display Lekman’s theatrical persona as successfully that pale in comparison to the best cuts on the album. Overall, Life Will See You Now comes across as somewhat of a stepping stone for the artist, as shown by the slight mixed bag of material that makes an appearance here, but Lekman certainly seems to be heading in the right direction on much of the album. Indeed, a project that actualises the best components of this record could really be something special, and I hope that, in the future, the singer will further his adventures into the colourful depths of indie pop that he reaches on this album’s best songs.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7/10