Who’s to say if Jens Lekman’s sadness is genuine or not? The young Swede does not bawl, he never emotes effusively and he certainly doesn’t bare the depths of his inner-darkness with overly personal lyrics. What Lekman does is paint sadness in its most elegant and desirable light. It’s the sadness that walks rain-slicked city streets in the dark, jacket collar up to face the cold, smoke rising all around as it does from the protagonist’s mouth. The Hollywood ideal of what sadness looks like is so richly laid out by Lekman’s lyrics and plaintive quirky-croon delivery that it’s hard to believe anyone could actually feel that way.
The greatest part of making three excellent EPs is that you can later roll them into one gorgeous full-length with minimal effort. The three discs in question are 2004’s Maple Leaves, You Are the Light and Rocky Dennis. Each one of these releases is a dense display of Lekman’s talents, and together they form a very cohesive catalogue.
Maple Leaves is arguably the strongest of the three, with two of Lekman’s most poignant songs culled off of it. “Black Cab” is the best-lit path into the singer’s aesthetic and psyche – and it also delivers the LP’s title with the cheeky, self-effacing lyric, “Oh you’re so silent Jens/ well maybe I am, maybe I am.” The orchestral pop of “Maple Leaves” appears twice on the album, recounting tales of Lekman’s selective hearing in matters of love. He comes to a realization that his attempts to salvage an erstwhile relationship fell on deaf ears, and that “she says we were just make believe/ But I thought she said Maple Leaves/ and when she talked about a fall/ I thought she talked about a season/ I never understood at all.”
Lekman’s indie-rock awareness nearly matches his lyrical prowess, and he flexes his pop-culture muscles without restraint, referencing everything from the Fall’s frontman Mark E. Smith to Warren G’s “Regulate.” Lyrical reference isn’t the only place where hipster hat-tipping occurs; samples from Belle & Sebastian, Arab Strap and an extra-potent Beat Happening outtake make their way onto this record. You may want to accuse Lekman of name-dropping for its own sake, but these samples are all used thoughtfully and in each case make a sincere contribution to the song.
Hip or not, Jens goes to Graceland for the seriously catchy “Julie” and shows he might be influenced by Paul Simon and other old-school singer-songwriters just as much as his typical reference point, Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields. The mandolin and echoed backing vocals build up momentum for the “Graceland”-style hand drums, then wrap up even bigger with a harp and accordion working their way into the mix. The finished product would fit in perfectly on a Wes Anderson soundtrack.
It’s promising indeed when an album that most artists would be happy to have as their pièce de résistance still shows plenty of room for growth. But one question remains: Is Jens really all that sad? Well, maybe he is, maybe he is.
“Black Cab” mp3