Music

Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now

Photo: Ellika Henrikson

Singer-songwriter Jens Lekman returns with Life Will See You Now, possibly his finest record to date.


Jens Lekman

Life Will See You Now

Label: Secretly Canadian
Release Date: 2017-02-17
Amazon
iTunes

The brilliant Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman’s catalog is filled with wryly self-aware songs that analyze coming of age, love, friendship, and heartbreak in an entertaining fashion. Like Stephen Merritt or Jarvis Cocker, Lekman’s lyrics are unusually story-driven, often having a beginning, middle, and end rather than circling a theme poetically. His peculiar take on indie pop includes everything from Scott Walker-type baroque pop to tropically-themed exotica to sample-based electronic music. (One of his most fascinating choices was to sample Calvin Johnson’s croaking refrain from Beat Happening’s “Gravedigger’s Blues”.) On top of all that, he’s a first-rate singer with a beautiful croon that stands outside of time just like Morrissey.

Lekman’s last record, 2012’s I Know What Love Isn’t, felt out of character compared to the rest of his output. Lacking his usual effervescence, the album espoused fatigue and felt leaden throughout, although his unique strengthen as a singer, songwriter, and arranger still shined in places. Since releasing that record, Lekman embarked on some unique songwriting projects. In 2015, he made a New Year’s Resolution to write and record a song every week of the year and actually followed through on it, naming the series Postcards and uploading every single one to his Soundcloud page. Additionally, he created another series titled Ghostwriting, where he’d write songs based on stories that his audience would tell from their personal lives.

Now returning with his long-awaited fourth full-length album, Life Will See You Now, Lekman has crafted a masterful return to form that bridges the gap between the 2007 sample-based opus Night Falls Over Kortedala and the more measured full-band arrangements of I Know What Love Isn’t, creating a newfound synergy of his past and present. Life Will See You Now is a remarkably focused and well-produced record that blends upbeat '80s influenced pop and disco into Lekman’s established indie pop. You won’t hear likely many other indie pop albums as refined and rich as this anytime soon: it's full of Easter eggs lyrically and sonically and is evermore listenable because of the strength of its songs.

While Lekman mines many of the same personal concerns of his work in the past, he imbues the subject matter with a newfound sense of resolution. “Postcard #17”, a holdover from his Postcard series, rides on a sample of Charles Mingus’s “Myself When I’m Real” with Lekman singing about what he fears and culminating with a verse in which he turns round to face the fear: "Is that what I was scared of? / Fucking ridiculous.” It’s an unusually angry lyric both in language and delivery for Lekman, but the breakthrough earned here is taken to its logical conclusion in the next song, “Dandelion Seed”, which focuses on the problems of being anxious in every action you take, or, as Lekman says, building "a bomb shelter under every dream". By the end, Lekman resolves himself to let the flow of life take him like the wind takes the titular seed. The final lyric goes, “And the wind is like… a string section.” That ellipsis, that hiccup, gives us a sense of discovery, bringing the emotion that drives the seemingly maudlin realization away from cliche and into profound truth.

And that’s how a lot of this record is: intentionally cliched metaphors butting up against beautifully saccharine music that somehow rings as absolutely real. The album’s mission statement is on clear on the first track, “Know Your Mission", which is the kind of peppy indie song that you can easily imagine soundtracking the opening credits of your favorite movie. It tells the story of a Mormon missionary meeting Jens in 1997 and their subsequent conversation about what they want out of life, to which Jens responds, “But in a world full of mouths, I want to be an ear / If there’s a purpose to all of this, then that’s why God put me here.” “Evening Prayer” and “How Can I Tell Him” analyze heterosexual male intimacy in a hilariously graceful manner, similar to of Montreal’s twee classic “Tim Wish You Were Born a Girl". “Evening Prayer” is one of the album’s more disco influenced tracks, with lyrics that chronicle the relationship between Jens and a friend who survived cancer. As a coping mechanism, his friend carries around a 3-D printed model of his tumor, which unsettles Jens. But his friend comforts him, “It helps me a lot to have a friend like you / When I saw how worried you were, I knew I had to be strong.”

The incredibly infectious “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel” features one of Lekman’s very best melodies, setting you off into heaven on angelic strings and cheap-sounding electronic percussion. “Wedding in Finistere” is a horn-driven romp with a motor-mouthed chorus reminiscent of Paul Simon’s most jittery work. Lead single “What’s That Perfume You That You Wear?” is heavily percussive and danceable, with a copious amount of steel drums accenting nearly every line—it reminds one of Hot Chip’s work on One Life Stand. The lite-disco continues on the conceptual and hilarious “How We Met, The Long Version”, which tells the story of how a couple met from the beginning of the universe to the awkward start of their relationship, where Jens asks to borrow her bass guitar. “Our First Fight” is a delicate story-song vignette in which a relationship is challenged, but then resolved with that special smile that’s shared between lovers.

There’s a lot in Life Will See You Now to suggest that it’s Lekman’s finest album to date. It’s certainly his most refined and emotionally rich. But, more than anything, it reveals Lekman as a maturing songwriter and human being who’s able to roll with the life’s uncertainty and continue to make beautiful art about it.

9
Music
Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Recent
Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.