In lieu of issuing an album proper, Jens Lekman lovingly wraps three new compositions in a mixtape that plays like a gift to the listener, showing off his personal sources of inspiration.
How exactly does an artist present new material when they don’t have quite enough to comprise a full-length release but don’t want to simply put forth a handful of singles for piecemeal consumption? If you’re Jens Lekman, you surround your new material within the context of fragments of the work of others, creating a sort of twee mixtape that shows off a diverse stylistic palette that ultimately draws from the same thematic pool despite the genre disparity.
Given the fleeting interest afforded today’s releases due to the sheer volume and ease of access, more and more artists have to resort to compelling means by which to not only distribute their product, but also get it heard. Personal backstories will only get artists so far and, more often than not, if they aren’t already established or the story isn’t one of the strangest things anyone has ever heard, little notice will come their way. So now, artists are resorting to more and more intriguing means by which to present their (un)finished products.
In the case of Lekman, who has slowed somewhat in recent years after a fairly prolific run in the early part of the last decade, his latest release comes in the form of a mixtape. The album consists of three new songs:the uber-catchy “WWJD”, the steel drum-heavy, dance floor-ready “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?”, and the nostalgia-heavy, straight-up reggae track “I Remember”. Interspersed throughout these three tracks are personal favorites and inspirations of Lekman's. This approach is akin to a good friend placing their latest bedroom recordings alongside known favorites in hopes of creating a sort of congruity in the material, flowing seamlessly and, in the process, causing the listener to perk up and take notice of unfamiliar material. At its root, this is an adorably twee attempt to justify the existence of a full-length where normally a single would suffice.
It’s a clever trick, seamlessly interspersing his own new material within the context of existing songs, the majority of which fit not only musically but also thematically within Lekman’s plaintive, often precious pop templates. Using the material of others as the basis for one’s own new material is by no means a new concept (hip-hop being the best and oldest example of existing material being re-appropriated to create something new and an obvious touch point for Lekman’s approach here), but it is rather novel within a pop/rock context, especially when employed by a musician of Lekman’s ilk.
One doesn’t generally associate wistful twee with mixtape culture, however here they prove ideal, if odd, bedfellows as Lekman seamlessly weaves new and old together into one extended mix that flows from one song to the next. Retaining elements from the preceding tracks into the next, Lekman is able to reuse melodic fragments here and there, with motifs stretching across tracks to create a non-linear musical narrative that allows for multiple callbacks and musical cross-pollination throughout the disparate styles present.
By mixing classical, reggae, soul, afrobeat, electronic music, and nearly everything in between, Lekman shows off an impeccably diverse musical palette, one that helps better contextualize his own idiosyncratic approach to pop song construction. While there are only three distinct new Lekman tracks here, nearly everything sounds as though it could have come from any number of his preceding recordings. By placing his influences right alongside his own finished products, Lekman provides the listener a direct link to his creative process, showing instead of telling. Ultimately, WWJD Mixtape plays like a cracked collaborative session across the decades, one in which musically dissimilar pairings make for some of the best, most unlikely matchups in some time.