Release Date: Oct 11, 2011
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Political Folk, Alternative Folk, Anti-Folk
JEFFREY LEWIS plays the Dakota on Saturday (November 12). See listing. Rating: NNNN Jeffrey Lewis is often accused of using his songs as little more than word delivery systems - melodically sparse springboards for his wry, conceptual lyrics. On his sixth album, the New York anti-folk singer/songwriter takes a step toward silencing the critics, tempering his creaky half-spoken vocals with some surprisingly sophisticated arrangements and harmonies with guests like Dr.
Following the splendid career highlight Em Are I, and after a couple of collaborative detours -- the uneven-at-best The Bundles with Kimya Dawson, and the delightfully loopy Come On Board with weirdo folk icon Peter Stampfel -- lovably quirky New York songwriter/cartoonist Jeffrey Lewis returns with a highly likable sixth album full of his characteristic wit, whimsy, sardonic self-deprecation, and transcendental musings. Lewis' regular backing band the Junkyard are absent here (under that billing, at least), as are the occasional bursts of electrified rowdiness they've provided in the past. In their place are a clutch of mostly British indie folk players (including the Wave Pictures' Franic Rozycki, who provides some fine mandolin work throughout), and a bevy of guests -- members of the Vaselines, Dr.
If all is fair in life, then Jeffrey Lewis will one day be Poet Laureate of New York City. Much is made of Lewis’ songwriting prowess (that notable English wit Jarvis Cocker once called him “the best lyricist working in the U.S. today”), so this statement could be considered only mildly outlandish. Still, if Lewis were in contention for the position, we must believe that his songs speak the truth, and, unfortunately, as evidenced on new album A Turn in the Dream-Songs, Lewis is still suffering from plenty of disrespect.
Jeffrey Lewis is a clever enough man to treat any testament to his originality as an accusation against his self-awareness – he is an artist who goes to great lengths to disguise himself as an artisan. He references influences in song-titles (‘Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror’, ‘History of the Fall’), records whole albums of hagiography (12 Crass Songs ) and has even written a series of New York Times articles about his knowing appropriation of influence ('perhaps what I do should be called song-composting, or song-mulching'). The effect of this process is two-fold.
If our ability to repeatedly make the same mistakes is part of what makes us human, then [a]Jeffrey Lewis[/a] makes the rest of us look like robots. The anti-folk pioneer’s sixth album for Rough Trade is a familiar comedy of errors, full of dusky textures with a sparkling hue of optimism. From ‘[b]So What If I Couldn’t Take It[/b]’’s poison-guzzling neurotic who [i]“Quickly turned on the cap/Out of concern for the rats”[/i], to the ‘[b]Cult Boyfriend[/b]’ without [i]“A second date… or even first”[/i], the New York artist breathlessly unspools literate tales of woe that [i]’Flight Of The Conchords’[/i] writers would slay for.
Announcing its arrival with the trill of a flute, Jeffrey Lewis's sixth album sticks to troubadour territory, though it's peppered with instrumental interludes that sound surprisingly sinister against the quirky oddball-isms. Lewis is at his best when he's showing off his wit and lyrical dexterity. Cult Boyfriend sees him comparing his career with his date-worthiness – "A cult boyfriend's like a record in a bargain bin/ No one knows its worth til a collector comes in" – while When You're By Yourself touches on the important subject of whether to take your bag to the loo when you're eating alone.
A sixth LP which finds the underrated performer on brilliant form. Chris Parkin 2011 For all his grubby-kneed reportage and wry, mooning confessionals about his own cult-level success, Jeffrey Lewis is a far more otherworldly songwriter than he’s given credit for. His five preceding albums brim with propulsive ear-worming narratives about bad acid trips, being tied to railway tracks and assaulted by Will Oldham, living to 128, and hearts so broken we can’t even imagine.