Jens Lekman explores the big picture in 'Life Will See You Now'


Swedish singer Jens Lekman returns with his newest album, "Life Will See You Now." Courtesy Photo and Courtesy Photo

Over the course of his career, Swedish musician Jens Lekman has subtly evolved his own brand of musical whimsy. While 2012’s "I Know What Love Isn’t" was distinct from his other albums in its somber tone, it still retained his signature wit. Meanwhile his new album expands his talent in another direction. 

"Life Will See You Now" is more like Lekman's first two albums in emotional range but unified instead by themes about “why we're here and making choices and seeing the consequences of your choices,” as he told Noisey in a prior interview.

The opening track, “To Know Your Mission,” establishes the tone of self-reflection early on with Lekman voicing his desire to be an ear “in a world of mouths.” Lekman told Exclaim! that songwriting for this album took more soul-searching than before, which seems to be how he arrived at these grander realizations.

Lekman’s greatest strength as a songwriter lies in his storytelling ability. Lekman’s images elevate his anecdotes, letting them convey distinct emotion and humor. The lyricism is wordy and involved without bogging down the songs, letting them stay catchy regardless of tone. “Evening Prayer” explores the relatable gray area of not being sure if you’re close enough to someone to express your concern for them. The song is about the narrator getting a beer with his friend Babak, who 3D printed a replica of a tumor that was removed from his back. The image represents Babak’s health-related fears, but the bizarre nature of the whole scenario is clear when the waitress picks up the tumor and says “What is this? It looks kinda cool.”

Another example of a compelling story is in “How We Met, The Long Version,” which was influenced by a scene in the comedy film "Airplane!" Lekman tells the story of how two lovers met from the very, very beginning. The song begins with the formation of the universe and evolution of mankind and only reaches their personal relationship just before Lekman concludes, “And you can call it fate or chance / But we made it happen.” It starts as a silly exaggeration of the stereotypical couple’s big story about how they met, but by the end it becomes meaningful, showing the narrator’s perspective on his relationship’s place in the universe.

Thankfully, Lekman’s songs always feel genuine in spite of their quirks. “Indie pop” is a nebulous meaningless term artists rarely associate with willingly, but many indie pop artists like The Magnetic Fields, of whom Lekman is a fan, share a commonality in their sardonic voices. Lekman exhibits a similar self-awareness, but it never undercuts the substance of his songs. In “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel” he sings, "If I'm gonna write a song about this, I promise I won't make it a sad song." It’s a meta lyric, but it’s used for the sake of openness with the listener rather than commentary on popular music.

Lekman’s aforementioned lyrical style unites his discography, but it’s important to note how his sound has changed with each record. This album’s production is notably more pronounced than that of previous albums, probably because it's the first album Lekman didn't produce single-handedly. With the help of producer Ewan Pearson, Lekman was able to expand upon the cheerful air of 2007’s "Night Falls Over Kortedala" with drum machines, electronic instruments, and disco beats. The end result is instrumentation more complex than any prior album, contrasting most directly from "I Know What Love Isn’t." While the more traditional instruments still suited that album’s tone, the upbeat variety of sounds present in "Life Will See You Now" is more dynamic and poppy.

There’s no weak track on "Life Will See You Now," though the closer “Dandelion Seed” has noticeably less energy than the tracks prior, so the end of the record fizzles out. Otherwise the album structure is solid, balancing standout pop song “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?” with the quieter “Our First Fight” immediately after. Ultimately this album draws upon Lekman’s personal life less directly than previous records, but the sentiments expressed remain heartfelt, which is important given the album’s themes. It’s hard to say if Lekman reached any big conclusions about his existential questions while completing this record, but his musings led to a fun pop record incorporating his longtime strengths with a new sound.

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