Release Date: Sep 4, 2012
Record label: Secretly Canadian
Jens LekmanI Know What Love Isn't[Secretly Canadian; 2012]By Ryan Stanley; September 10, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGSince the beginning, Swedish songsmith Jens Lekman has drawn some pretty loaded comparisons. And that’s not just because Lekman’s work can so often rival the best indie pop of the past 20 years. His influences have always been easy to trace - the natural melodicism of Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, the poignant witticisms of the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt.
Despite having resided in a land of heartbreak over the entirely of his career—two full-lengths and a generous handful of EPs—Jens Lekman still isn’t prepared to offer any workable insights into the nature of love. “Sinatra had his shit figured out, I presume,” he moans on I Know What Love Isn’t single “Erica America.” Happiness on loan, wedged between world-ending heartbreak, green card marriages and recurring dreams, Lekman once again proves the obvious: that he’s not as self-assured as ol’ Blue Eyes—even if his silky croon may argue otherwise. But what could pass as a recipe for sad-sackery is saved by Lekman’s self-aware sense of humor, as he passes over where so many have trod before.
Jens Lekman’s third album begins with a short overture titled “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name,” a scene-setting instrumental that lets you know right away that this is going to be his easy listening album. The piano plunks out a simple, melancholy melody; the strings swell bittersweetly; the guitar strums gently. It’s all very perky in its glumness, and only a little bit cheesy.
Jens Lekman's third full album, I Know What Love Isn't was recorded over a period of three years in a number of studios on different continents, but sounds like the result of a single focused recording session. It's his first album to be recorded mostly by musicians instead of being built chiefly around samples (though there are a few to be found scattered throughout), and Lekman proves to be just as adept working this way as he was in the past. He blends the instruments together like a skilled painter and gets emotional performances from everyone, especially the string players.
Poor old Jens Lekman. The singer-songwriter from Gothenburg cuts a desperately forlorn figure on the cover of his third album, I Know What Love Isn’t. That wistful glance over the shoulder provides an emphatic answer to those wondering what Jens has been up to since 2007’s rather impressive Night Falls Over Kortedala: he’s been having his heart crushed into tiny pieces, contemplating sham marriages to secure a visa, and writing songs about his experiences.
Failing relationships are so ingrained in pop music practice that “breakup albums” often fail to register as conceptual pieces at all. But concept albums they are, from In the Wee Small Hours and Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely onward. Jens Lekman has always come off as the modest sort, so perhaps he’s acknowledging his latecomer status to the form on I Know What Love Isn’t with a sly reference to its origins: “Sinatra had his shit figured out, I presume.” The additional implication here, though, is that Lekman doesn’t have his shit figured out after the breakup that inspired his third album.
Review Summary: but robin you didn't even talk about any of the musicI’m probably not quite with it to give Jens Lekman his dues, and for that I thank you, future run-ins with spellchecker, but anyway: of love songs, Lekman pointed I Know What Love Isn’t to break-ups, and speaking to Pitchfork claimed that a record centred around one is made by accepting, hand in hand with its listener, the pain of it all. Up until now, this is hardly the man we’ve known; the You’re So Silent Jens laughed, played maudlin piano trilogies about Rocky Dennis, and then dedicated retro dance songs to himself; the love-song aspect was there, but driving backseat to the witticisms and showy moments. Until now, Lekman has been the perfect performer and the ideal entertainer, to the point where he even pronounced “father” as “fadduh,” as if he was bringing up Camp Granada’s easy-humour on the indie spectrum.
Perhaps, as DiS’s Sam Kinchin-Smith noted in his review of Jens Lekman’s An Argument With Myself EP last year, it’s true that 'it is EP-making that comes most naturally to Jens'. Even if you include this record, his ratio of EPS to albums remains at 13 to three. Personally I find it almost astounding when any artist makes two genuinely great records.
A songwriter is often only as good as the stories he tells, and Jens Lekman’s stories are blockbuster epics in themselves. He spins yarns about ordinary, personal, even mundane topics, but when sprinkled with his special blend of humor and intimate detail, they take on the properties of great fiction. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the Swedish singer-songwriter knows his way around an unforgettable, elegantly arranged melody.
Two years ago, Swedish pop troubadour Jens Lekman released the first song that would appear on his next LP, and it was a characteristically verbose, witty, and string-kissed number called "The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love". That title was disconcerting: Jens Lekman's music is the kind you look to when you need confirmation that love is the end of the world. Over the past decade, few songwriters have dedicated themselves to dramatizing the rise and fall of the heart as brilliantly as Lekman.
In his review of last year’s An Argument with Myself EP, Robert Christgau called Jens Lekman “a young man your daughter should only bring home to mother.” Well, sure, but things become a little complicated when the next thing the kid puts out is a breakup album. I Know What Love Isn’t, the Swedish indie-pop star’s third studio full-length and first since 2007’s masterpiece Night Falls Over Kortedala, refers to several women, some via pronouns, some by first name, and, yes, some by numerical rating; but you can tell only one pervades the spirit of it all. “You don’t get over a broken heart, you just learn to carry it gracefully,” goes the title track.
Over the years, Swedish fella Jens has taken us on all kinds of journeys in his songs, from hating on over-zealous cab drivers to unsuccessfully chasing Kirsten Dunst around Gothenburg. ‘I Know What Love Isn’t’, though, is about his most recent break-up. And while in the past he’s dealt with break-ups with a healthy smattering of LOLs, this time he’s far gloomier.
Someone once compared Jens Lekman to the filmmaker Wes Anderson, for his sparkly artistic vision and his tendency to come over a bit twee. The 31-year-old Gothenburger is best known for combining autobiography with arch humour; he writes quizzical pop songs with arch titles (Rocky Dennis' Farewell Song to the Blind Girl is about the guy from Mask) and he's got the kind of shrugging sadness that resonates deeply with the Brits, from his amusing self-deprecation to his Morrissey-flat voice. On this third album nothing quite matches the second track, Erica America, for subtlety, its delicately anguished lyric set to a lush, Richard Carpenter-style melody.
Whether singing over schmaltzy disco beats or lovely strings, Jens Lekman could always be counted on for a good time. Few lyricists have his ability to mix drama and humor, and few songwriters could match his way with dynamic song structures. I Know What Love Isn't is a breakup record, and though it still aches with hope, it strips Lekman of his greatest strengths.
Listening to Jens Lekman’s newest, I Know What Love Isn’t, I found myself thinking of that bizarre little track “It’s Oh So Quiet” from Bj?rk’s 1995 album Post. In what may be the closest Bj?rk’s ever come to letting her kitschy-yet-deeply-felt instincts cross the unspoken line between “serious” and “funny,” she decided to illustrate what she saw as two fundamental halves of life with a contrast of sheer musical size: “you fall in love” was accompanied by a blat of big band brass so huge and colorful that it seemed like it had to be a sample; “it’s over” got a tiptoeing clarinet and plucks so innocuous and uncaring that it seemed like it had to be the work of studio musicians. Again, not exactly funny, but certainly tongue-in-cheek.
At this point in his career, we know Jens Lekman has a knack for telling a compact story: in the span of one song, he crafts amazingly complex mini-movies, words often cascading rapidly over each other in funny asides and sharp character details. (Some of his best works, “A Postcard to Nina,” “Black Cab,” and “Waiting for Kirsten” come to mind.) Whether or not what he does appeals to one’s particular sensibility, Lekman’s always relentlessly interesting. There’s no spacing out to Jens; every time some clever joke, astute observation, or out-of-nowhere key change will shake you awake.
There's no better subject to write a song about than love, whether you're in it, out of it, regretting it or longing for it. Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman wasn't planning on writing an album about it, especially one based on his break-up. In fact, he was purposely trying to avoid doing it. But when it came time to write his long overdue third full-length, the Gothenburg native kept thinking about his failed relationship.
You could be forgiven for thinking Jens Lekman had already recorded a break-up album. Since we first met the Swedish singer his default state has tended towards lovelorn, whether he's mistaking a lover's rueful words for a Fall reference or offering to sing at an ex-girlfriend's wedding. On his last album, Night Falls Over Kortedala, he gave this romantic imbalance a twist: suddenly Lekman was the jilter, saying goodbye to a woman he loved too little.
Jens Lekman is the kind of guy who gets thrown in jail (for spray painting a car) and uses his one phone call to request a song on the radio for a girl (“You Are The Light”). He falls for women cutting his hair (“Shirin”) as readily as he does strangers at antiwar demonstrations (“I Saw Her In The Anti-War Demonstration”). He chops off the tip of his index finger while slicing an avocado, and all he can do is fixate on how great it is to be held by his girlfriend (“Your Arms Around Me”).
The Swedish singer’s third set feels like a fresh start. Luke Slater 2012 Jens Lekman’s 2011 EP, An Argument With Myself, may have been an enjoyable and relatively riotous detour for the Swedish artist. But by the time of its release, even patient fans were ready for another full-length. And that’s something, five years after second LP Night Falls Over Kortedala, we now have.