Jordan Lehning Creates a Film in Your Head with 'Little Idols'

Photo: Laura Partain / Courtesy of Missing Piece Group

Jordan Lehning intends Little Idols work as a sort of movie. The music frequently changes style and mood to accompany the film in your head.

Little Idols
Jordan Lehning

Tone Tree

7 August 2020

During a interview with Atwood Magazine, Jordan Lehning said the impetus for his most recent album (Little Idols) came from a vision he had about the end of an affair. The couple would be parked in a car that would not start while the radio played the song "Crimson and Clover" over and over. Lehning didn't specify if he meant the original Tommy James & the Shondells hit or the Joan Jett cover. My bet would be on the James' rendition based on the similar echoing of the song, but it doesn't matter that much as either one would suffice to set the atmosphere. Simply put, the old song's lyrics don't make sense. Not only that, but the words are sung with strange breaks between syllables which make them even harder to decipher. I remember a television quiz show from my youth called The Generation Gap that had the adults try to guess what the lyrics were, and they failed. I can't remember how their kids did, but presumably, they knew because it was a popular song at the time

In any case, "Crimson and Clover" succeeds in setting an atmosphere of something soft and beautiful as those words suggest. Lehning uses the reference to the song as "a yarn", the kind one ties around one's finger so as not to forget something (in this case, the love affair) even though it is over. This can be found on Lehning's "The Quarry Song" about the relationship's terminus. It tells the story. The woman is married, and the man is young and single. The romance can only end badly. It's best to break it off. Allusions to sex and love are poetically rendered. For example, when the key is removed from the ignition, the music goes on, which suggests that even when the coupling ends, the memory of it sweetly lingers on.

Lehning intends the record work as a sort of movie. The music frequently changes style and mood so that the film in your head is accompanied by sounds and effects in musical terms. He uses electronic synthesizers and musical instruments to create everything from the wind blowing and doors shutting to straightforward guitar based lines to capture what's going on. Lehning sings in measured, mellow tones even when the background gets kind of strange. The instrumental settings feature elements that share much in common with the contemporary classical traditions of Terry Riley, John Adams, and such, who use repetition and angular changes during a song's progression.

There are also several moments of beauty as befits a story about a love affair. These songs precede "The Quarry Song" and help set the amorous moods. For example, the track "Little Lie" offers charming little details and observations about being with his sleeping lover while a gentle melody plays that seems to sweetly and softly drift in and out. The "Little Lie" is his name for the woman who cheats on her husband with him. The song ends with a menacing coda, but not until first making the attractions and pleasures of the affair clear.

While the initial narrative may end with "The Quarry Song", it's only track seven of nine. The two that follow reveal the reverberations of what was done and felt. "Treasures of the Flood" sonically suggests the residual emotional pain while the final cut, "Only That You're Gone" reveals how feelings have ebbed over time and distance. All that remains is the affairs' absence. The ephemerality of it all is what gives the memory its charm. The song doesn't fade. It just ends, like the illicit relationship did. One can mentally picture Lehning ending his music movie with a title frame saying "The End".






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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