Music

Sondre Lerche: Phantom Punch

Jon Ross

With Phantom Punch, Norwegian idol Sondre Lerche completes his child-star arc.


Sondre Lerche

Phantom Punch

Label: Astralwerks
US Release Date: 2007-02-06
UK Release Date: 2007-01-29
Amazon
iTunes

An unabashedly dirty electric guitar riff opens "Phantom Punch", the title track on Sondre Lerche's latest release. The 20-odd notes pop with rhythmic intensity and drums enter with piercing snare hits and biting high-hat figures. Lerche, firmly planted in his middle register, begins to sing. His heady tenor sounds clipped and highly enunciated: borderline talking.

This new feel -- the loud guitars, the change in vocal timbre -- seems like a rejection of the singer's previous work. The sweet string arrangements which formed the bulk of his first two records -- 2002's Faces Down and its follow-up, Two Way Monologue -- are gone. Lerche used a clean guitar sound, a tinkling piano and a walking bass on Duper Sessions, and those are nowhere to be found. But peel away the outer pop/rock layer of Phantom Punch, and everything in Lerche's catalog appears.

On Phantom Punch, Lerche has learned to incorporate elements from his other albums without overloading the listener with allusions to his influences. "Tragic Mirror", a fragile acoustic number that slowly builds in dynamics and background clamor, belongs on his earliest releases. "Airport Taxi Reception" bubbles over with syncopated rhythms and bouncy phrasing, a close cousin to the songs on Duper. But his latest approach -- a stripped-down rock sound with undercurrents of bossa nova -- is still in its nascent stages. Watching his repertory arc is seeing a style in progress. What started as high school uncertainty has bloomed into guarded self-assurance.

For the singer, developing his sound has been a four-CD process, and it's been done in front of the world. In this way, Lerche is akin to a child actor growing up on TV -- viewers across the globe see every zit, every awkward moment. Like Mark-Paul Gosselaar in the early '90s or Joseph Gordon-Levitt during his tenure on Third Rock from the Sun, Lerche is maturing in front of everyone. Trapped under the sound on his first records, weighed down by his influences, Lerche is searching for his own voice.

When child stars grow as actors, they progress to more demanding roles. Gosselaar made the transition from teen television to NYPD Blue, and Gordon-Levitt has taken to movie dramas, including 2005's Brick -- movies that require a different style than comedies like Angels in the Outfield and Beethoven. Lerche, however, has taken the opposite route. While his early work focused on heavy string arrangements and a lush atmosphere, he has settled on rock, traditionally a haven for the not-so-serious.

Lerche's ability to change, his security in adding new parts to an already lauded sound, came to him not in the form of years of on-the-job training, but in the guise of Elvis Costello. Accompanying Costello on a 12-city tour in the spring of 2005, Lerche learned how to shed his serious sensibilities. After the tour, Lerche recorded Duper, a stripped-down, introspective work. The music was full of jazz chords and subtle swinging grooves -- ideas he had been toying with since the beginning, but with a more deliberate touch.

The musical growth showcased on Duper overshadowed the occasional ballad misstep. From the first song, a new sound emerged. There were still necessary adjustments -- in the first three tunes he offered three different singing styles -- but Lerche had found his place. On Phantom Punch, he adds overdriven guitar licks and huge snare backbeats to this sound, thickening it in the middle.

For all the progress the record represents, Punch is a schizophrenic release. On one hand, Lerche wants his music to feel confrontational and loud. But part of him still imitates influences like the Beach Boys, XTC and Prefab Sprout. "John, Let Me Go" and "She's Fantastic" are so entrenched in this idol worship that they immediately stand out. These are tributes, not Lerche songs. For "John", Lerche affects a tonal color comparable to that of former XTC lead singer Andy Partridge, and the sampled intro sounds cliché and dated. "She's Fantastic" is too poppy for its own good and would have fit better on Costello's maiden release, My Aim is True.

Instead of representing a departure from a strict musical style, Phantom Punch signals more of what's to come. Though Lerche is still learning, his exploration in rock has helped establish who he is as a musician. Having already exhausted the use of rich string accompaniments, he has moved on. Lerche, a man who spent his childhood in serious roles, is ready for comedy.

6

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image