I’m listening to Sondre Lerche and drinking tea on an unseasonably cold spring evening. It’s been a rather shit season so far. A few pretty days have reared their heads among the general bluster, but this continues to be the time of year where the days run into one another, the plants still look dead, and the sun sets far too early. My mood as of late has been similar — neither happy nor sad but largely an unremarkable span of gray blah. No great love, no great loss, no startling success or brutal setback. It’s life.
Records are all about the moment they come to you, and in this space, Sondre Lerche comes to me. Two Way Monologue is not the sort of album to muscle you into cheer, but with its moderate coaxing you feel it rise up in you, akin to a good sort of drunk. Tonight, he’s an enchanting crooner who effortlessly switches from background to foreground, starting as a ginger entreaty to feeling warmer and brighter and, without warning, becoming the sole cause for such feelings.
Lerche, on his second album, has learned how to slowly release his charms; he even tiptoes into the music, after “Love You”, a string and horn soaked instrumental, begins its strange ascent into chaotic, dissonant chromatics. Like an inhale, there’s a moment of quiet vacuity before “Track You Down”, where he begins singing “down came the sky/ and all you did was blink”: words with a simple candor that seems odd in juxtaposition to violin screech of moments before. But these are the right words, the right mood, the right addendum. “Track You Down” is a slow, shiny ballad, built sparingly with acoustic guitar until its first chorus, allowing the earnest lyrics and their precious delivery to sparkle.
At a whopping 21 — and from a rather remarkable starting point — Lerche has managed to both grow up and secure an identity on this album, trading his starry-eyed wonder and boyish ebullience for a serene, more seasoned outlook on the world. The song titles are rife with declarative, state-of-the-union phrases — “It’s Over”, “It’s Too Late”, “It’s Our Job”; he trots out his familiar catch phrases such as “you know perfectly well”, punctuates lines with his now comforting falsetto lilt. The world of Two Way Monologue may find more by way of endings and duties, but even these can’t dampen Lerche’s contagious musical sensibilities, exhilarating vigor and downright stupefying songcraft. Lerche manages to both push himself and maintain an allegiance to his ways — something artists twice his age have trouble doing.
The title track is one of the album’s most jaunty and seems to erupt spontaneously, like an impromptu party that results when friends gather together by chance. It is a song with surprises in its pockets and tricks up its sleeves — from its leisurely beginnings, you’d never know that in moments, it will erupt with flying guitar lines, bouncing drums, and then later, full flung whirs and crashes and sonic giggles. Equally surprising is “Wet Ground”, for the way in which Lerche allows his voice to go gravelly and scorched, like a ’40s tunesmith crooning in a smoky Tin Pan Alley club. The song is layered with cascading vocal harmonies which enter the melody from all directions; there are cosmic aural effects which give it a slightly alien beauty.
Here, for me, Two Way Monologue is the subtle boon which slowly dissolves the mundane. But it will also greet you in your lighter moments, the powerful charge to an already joyful moment. It will be there when things may be dire, in that moment either willing you toward the brighter side, or else sitting still with you, giving you space to contemplate and room to breathe. Sondre Lerche is not only an absurdly talented songwriter and gifted performer, but he is also the most adaptable performer you could ever listen to. Like a friend, he meets you wherever you are, converses with you there, and takes you wherever you may want to go.