Jens Lekman: Oh, You're So Silent Jens

Adrien Begrand

The latest collection of previously released songs by the prodigious Swede features some of his best material so far.

Jens Lekman

Oh, You're So Silent Jens

Label: Secretly Canadian
US Release Date: 2005-11-22
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

A singer-songwriter perfectly suited for today's iPod generation, Jens Lekman stated in a recent PopMatters interview that he has no desire whatsoever to record a proper album, opting to concentrate solely on individual songs instead. It's a bold thing for the young Swedish prodigy to say, but considering the volume of songs he has recorded since his late teens, and the surprisingly high quality of the majority of them, it's best to let the young maverick do things his own way. Lekman's approach is simultaneously old school and contemporary; by placing the emphasis on the single, he hearkens back to the '50s, when rock 'n' roll was in its infancy, and people worried about sales of 45s, not LPs, but he also caters to today's massively popular MP3 trend, where people are in constant search of the latest brilliant track, while the full-length album slowly becomes a dying art.

Last year's debut full-length CD When I Wanted to Be Your Dog was perceived by many (yours truly included) as a proper album, but as it said in the liner notes, it was technically a greatest hits of sorts, a collection of recordings culled from 2000 to 2004. Album, compilation, re-release, whatever you wanted to call it, it was one of that year's standout records, the finest, most confident singer-songwriter debut since Badly Drawn Boy's The Hour of Bewilderbeast. Boasting a voice that immediately made us think of Stephen Merritt, Stuart Murdoch, and Morrissey, and a lyrical wit that dared to match those same people, Lekman took us on an entrancing little excursion, singing songs about eating bananas at 7-11, Jehovah's Witnesses interrupting birthday parties, breakups at protest rallies, and cozy houses in the dead of the Scandinavian winter, songs like "You Are the Light", "A Higher Power", and "Julie" displaying a pop songwriting prowess that many struggling musicians would kill for.

If you're Jens Lekman's record company, you had better be ready to churn out the CDs, because the guy is so prolific, he'd have a massive collection of unreleased material before you finished reading the rave reviews of his latest release. The folks at Secretly Canadian are certainly on the ball; in addition to the excellent Department of Forgotten Songs web page, which gives fans free downloads of new and previously unreleased tracks, we have the second Jens Lekman compilation in just over a year. Oh, You're So Silent Jens seems more like a reissue than the last record, primarily because Lekman's fans have likely heard the majority of these songs before, as it compiles his two acclaimed EPs from early 2004, Maple Leaves and Rocky Dennis, as well as B-sides from his You Are the Light single, and several newer tracks posted on his MP3 page. Since all three discs are out of print, releasing a compilation of this sort is the logical thing to do, and to no one's surprise, it makes for one fine CD.

The songs from the Rocky Dennis EP read like both an ode to the real-life kid whom the movie Mask was based on, but also as a confessional-style record of Lekman's own. The EP's highlight, "Rocky Dennis' Farewell Song" is achingly beautiful, combining a lovely glockenspiel melody, lush orchestration, gently thrumming bass, and a subtle electronic beat; the song bursts with heartbreaking, heartwarming beauty, as Lekman, or should I say Rocky, sings to the blind girl, "Someday I'll be stuffed in some museum/scaring little kids, with the inscripture, Carpe Diem/Something I never did."

The Maple Leaves EP gets a bit more adventurous. The title track (which also appeared on the European release of When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog) has a 60s orchestral pop feel, with two separate bouncy drumbeats overdubbed over one another, as Lekman sings facetiously, "She said it was all make believe/But I thought she said, 'Maple leaves.'" "Sky Phenomenon" has Lekman cutely (and quite aptly) describing the Northern Lights as, "like someone spilled the beer all over the atmosphere", while the stripped-down "Someone to Share My Life With" has Lekman displaying surprising economy, avoiding any of the bells and whistles that permeate "Maple Leaves". Best of all, though, is "Black Cab", arguably Lekman's finest song to date, a stunning combination of harpsichord and Byrds-style jangle pop, as Lekman tells the story of a guy who feels remorseful after ruining a party ("I killed a party again/I ruined it for my friends"), misses the last train home, and is forced to take a shady taxi, saying, "They might be psycho killers, but tonight I really don't care," adding miserably, "So I said, 'Turn up the music, take me home or take me anywhere.'"

From the You Are the Light single, "I Saw Her at the Anti-War Demonstration" returns to the same 60s folk rock sound of "Black Cab", as Lekman has visions of feeding his dream girl "lukewarm English beer and vegan pancakes." The sprightly "A Sweet Summer's Night on Hammer Hill" is constructed around a snappy trumpet melody, while "Another Summer's Night on Hammer Hill" is much more intimate, with its subtle cello, female backing vocals, and chirping crickets in the background.

True to form, Lekman is already ahead of his American label, having released the very good The Opposite of Hallelujah EP earlier this year, and he's probably got even more projects on the go as we speak. As listeners, we can either scramble to keep up with the guy, or just sit back and enjoy each new compilation. Either way, the young man is on an impressive roll, and Oh, You're So Silent Jens is an ideal introduction to his perpetually growing body or work.





Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.


The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.


Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.


Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.


Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.


Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.


Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.


Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.


The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

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.