Listen to Jens Lekman and write me a thank-you letter

Tuesday, November 5, 2019 - 5:55pm

NOSELL

Wikimedia Commons / Secretly Canadian

Stop what you are doing right now and listen to “A Postcard to Nina” by Jens Lekman. 

Jens Lekman is a Swedish indie musician from Gothenburg. He sings mostly of love and daily life in Nordic towns. His best work is the 2007 album Night Falls Over Kortedala, a rich fusion of baroque, orchestral pop and sample-based, blue-eyed soul, full of lush swells and silvery horns. I have written about music for three years and have been an insatiable consumer of music for much longer. In all those years, no album has made me feel as purely happy as when I listen to Night Falls Over Kortedala

It is difficult to pin down what makes Jens Lekman’s voice so evocative. His tone is pellucid and sweet. He has a showbizzy style similar to singers such as Billy Joel or Michael Bublé, but his ineffable sincerity sets him apart. Where others come across as smarmy and inauthentic, Lekman feels earnest. He is effective at convincing the listener that his stylized vocal timbre is not a mere affectation, but an expression of his rich internal experience. Musically, his ability to combine disco rhythms with chamber pop or crashing drums with candied harps, creating a distinctive yet familiar sound without coming off as either tongue-in-cheek or saccharine, is nothing short of miraculous. 

I have a love for this world / A kind of love that will break my heart

Most twee music is obnoxious in that it ignores the darkness and pain that we all experience. It feels almost insulting, as though the performer is trying to trick you and/or themselves. In contrast, Lekman lives in a world where sadness and pain are real and powerful. However, the world of Jens Lekman is beautiful anyway. It is precisely not for his lack of pain but for the strength of his response to it that the musician is such an inspiring narrator. “The Opposite of Hallelujah” is a sweet and wholesome song not because it is optimistic — in fact, the lyrics concern the inescapable distance between our inner lives, and are mostly quite depressing —  but for its relentless authenticity and heart in the face of suffering. Most artists who attempt to make similar music also tend to be pathetic to the point of revulsion  —  not Lekman. While emotional and kind, he never expects or desires pity. He also has what might strike us a characteristically European sense of humor, goofy and innocent, that prevents his lyrics from slipping into whininess. 

I was slicing up an avocado

The beauty Jens conveys tends to revolve around everyday occasions — biking with his sister to the shore, an awkward interaction with a friend’s father — and their unexpected intersections with meaning. When he finds such gravity in mundanity, it makes me hopeful that I can, like him, discover a deeper significance to the seemingly trivial. 

I think Im gonna drop my cool now / The best way to touch your heart is to make an ass of myself

This line coming from another artist would be awkward. Indeed, there are times when Jens is too cheesy, such as in the above quote. These lapses in Jens’s delicate balance between sincerity and oversentimentality, while not all that enjoyable, at least serve to make his authenticity clear. Jens is not afraid to overextend and make a fool of himself in the course of baring his soul. I think his sense of amiable guilelessness combined with a healthy dose of self-deprecation) helps to make even his embarrassing moments endearing.

She says that we were just make-believe / But I thought she said ‘maple leaves’'

This line is from the best song Jens has made that is not on Night Falls Over Kortedala: “Maple Leaves.” It doesn’t sound that much like Night Falls Over Kortedala — it’s more of an Avalanches-inspired sample collage than baroque pop. The narrative plot of the song revolves around a simple misunderstanding during a complex conversation with a lover. In some ways, it is the purest encapsulation of his voice: Heartfelt and lovelorn, he sees beauty (“maple leaves”) where there exists dissatisfaction (“make-believe”) in the eyes of his lover. The delicate balance he strikes between melancholy world-weariness and hopeless romanticism creates a world where every detail is imbued with color and meaning. Jens makes you want to see life through his eyes.