Jeffrey Lewis: A Turn in the Dream-Songs

The truth hurts, and no one illustrates honesty more colorfully than Jeffrey Lewis.

Jeffrey Lewis

A Turn in the Dream-Songs

Label: Rough Trade
US Release Date: 2011-10-11
UK Release Date: 2011-10-10
Artist website

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. The truth hurts, and no one illustrates honesty more colorfully than Lewis.

Lewis' previous release, 2009's 'Em Are I showed a progression in the musical aspect of the anti-folkie's work. In a recent interview with British newspaper The Guardian, Lewis mentioned that A Turn in the Dream-Songs marks his first foray into writing pop songs, i.e. songs with musical, and not just lyrical, panache. However, songs like "How Can It Be" have groundings in older Lewis material, whether it be 'Em Are I standout track "Broken Broken Broken Heart" or City and Eastern Songs' "New Old Friends". So while Lewis is (thankfully) trying new things, A Turn in the Dream-Songs guarantees much of that homespun Jeffrey Lewis charm, or as much charm as someone with a voice as whiny as Lewis can hold claim to.

"How Can It Be" has the additional allure of backing vocals from Dr. Dog, who gives the song an edge over its predecessors by emphasizing harmony as much as word wizardry. Other songs, such as "Boom Tube," are even riskier outings for Lewis -- they contain neither lyrics nor any quirks that would classify them as anti-folk. It is moments such as these -- even more so than lyrical ingenuity -- that elevate A Turn in the Dream-Songs above Lewis' previous efforts.

As for the songwriting, Lewis still remains inventive in both subject matter and finding new ways to address topics like love and depression. Hidden track "Mosquito Mass-Murderist" is a rap (another Lewis first) about killing mosquitoes. "Krongu Green Slime" is essentially a protest song, but its allegorical quality prevents it from becoming too irksome. "Cult Boyfriend" is an album highlight, a wry take on having a love life populated by a few die-hard devotees. Lovably self-deprecating lines such as, "If I really were that awesome, wouldn't more people think so?" could even compel a few kindred spirits to join OK Cupid on the off chance that Lewis might be a member and is game for comparing self-esteem issues with you. "So What If I Couldn't Take It" is quite possibly the silliest song about suicide ever, and one that throws in a jab at Pitchfork at that. There are many times in which the album verges on being too truthful for comfort, most notably on "When You're By Yourself", which could be an anthem for permanent bachelors and bachelorettes. More hopeful songs, such as "Try It Again", still retain a bald honesty strong enough to elevate the album from being just alright to something quite special.

Although it would be lovely if Jeffrey Lewis were to find love and happiness and release an album full of cheerful songs of alarming self-confidence, we can take comfort in the fact that Lewis has such a novel way of expressing his darker feelings. Judging the innovations showcased on A Turn in the Dream-Songs, Lewis has plenty of tricks on reserve for his journey there. If his cult standing is inescapable, at least to the select few who treasure Lewis' every bon mot he will forever be a voice of truth and comfort.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.