Life Will See You Now
Reviewed by: Ziggy Merritt
Since his debut in 2004, Gothenburg-native Jens Lekman has never failed to be himself. Putting forward an often deeply sardonic outlook into his albums, he has remained in the midst of romance and macabre. The narratives he paints resemble the utopian americana of a Rockwell painting mixed with the madcap surrealism of a Wes Anderson film with his latest being no different in that respect. For Life Will See You Now, Lekman revives those same narratives yet expands his sonic repertoire, adding in elements of bossa nova, disco, and harmonic synths with a familiar and lush string ensemble.
From start to finish there’s scarcely a lull moment with his fourth full EP coming out a long five years after 2012’s I Know What Love Isn’t. Lekman exudes an upbeat and sunny disposition not seen since his early “Postcard to Nina” years. While not quite living up to the nostalgic permanence of his classics this collection brings forth an exuberance and wit that few artists could hope to replicate.
Take one of the lead singles “Evening Prayer.” Beginning with rhythmic clapping and the almost shrill “do-do-do”s of the chorus, the lyrics unfold a story of a man carrying around a 3D-printed replica of a tumor he had removed. Bizarre as that might sound it’s a welcome return to Lekman’s brand of humor that comes off as both singularly grotesque and adorable.
The following track, “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel” has a similar disposition, this time adding in elements of calypso with graceful flourishes of piano. The story here unfolds just as literally as the title indicates, later breaking the fourth wall by the two voices within insisting that this won’t turn into a sad song.
Both tracks highlights Lekman’s wise insistence on making his voice stand out above the orchestral overtones. Here as always that works to his advantage, with a voice capable of relaying, of course, humor but also the rawness of heartbreak. On Life Will See You Now that voice has deepened and matured, rendering this album as much more wistful and cherished that some of his previous works. There’s growth here that comes from the fallout of the heartbreak that so defined his last full effort. Some of that of course seeps in here as well, with particular reference to “Postcard 17.”
The repetitive drone of piano, claps, and clanging lend the piece some traces of dolorous trip-hop. Lekman’s scorn and hurt here is almost visible as he twice repeats “fucking ridiculous” with an overstated bite. It’s cathartic; much of the album and indeed much of his robust discography is reflective of a healing process that is still ongoing. With his latest, Jens Lekman doesn’t cast any illusions about that process and continues to wear a heart, be it punctured by arrows or ridden with bandages, on his sleeve.