Review Summary: Jens Lekman's Night Falls Over Kortedala is an emotional and witty ride worthy of album of the year.
If you’ve been paying attention to any indie blogs or review sites for the past couple months, you’re probably familiar with the name Jens Lekman. It was a combination of this and a recommendation of a friend that made me go out and “obtain” a copy of Lekman’s new album Night Falls Over Kortedala
without ever hearing anything from it. What I found in the album was infinitely surprising. The album was a perfect mix of grandiose string arrangements worthy of a spot in various dramatic 50s films and a witty and beautiful lyrical/vocal performance. Just to give some background, Jens Lekman is an indie pop Swedish singer-songwriter who’s released various and eps and three LPs since 2000. Night Falls Over Kortedala
is his most accomplished material to date.
The album starts with the hilarious and quirky “And I Remember Every Kiss,” which begins with a thundering timpani roll and some string arrangements. Then Lekman’s voice comes in, reminiscent of Frank Sinatra or other 50s-60s classical, swing-esque singers: deep, wide, loud, dramatic. The lyrics are melancholic but there’s something about them that makes you almost laugh instead of feel sad. The chorus is an explosion of trumpets and strings as Lekman croons, “But I will never kiss anyone! Who doesn’t burn me like the sun! And I remember every kiss, like my first kiss!” The second verse is when Lekman exposes the witty lyrical ability that has gotten his so much attention. “Things get more complicated when your older, before you know it you are somebody’s soldier, you get a gun and name it after a girlfriend,” Lekman moans in his traditional, almost monotonous croon. The song continues in the same fashion, the strings exploding and then fading out, and the song ends with Lekman repeating, “like my first kiss.” “And I Remember Ever Kiss” is a good representation of the sound of Night Falls Over Kortedala
, the epic string arrangements, the silly melancholic lyrics at which you can’t help but laugh, and the trademark beautiful voice of Lekman. But “Sipping On The Sweet Nectar” only solidifies Lekman’s incredible arrangement and songwriting abilities (yes, Lekman arranges all the orchestral part, usually taking guitar duties) and proves that he has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. The song starts with a silly flute bit reminiscent of 60s and 70s television themes, almost hinting at disco with its funky bass line. The lyrics are a bit more serious this time around, as Lekman reflects about love and “sipping on the sweet nectar of your memories.” The music is refreshing and bold and you can spend minutes just in awe of Lekman’s arrangement skills.
“The Opposite Of Hallelujah,” my personal favorite track on the album is full of sorrowful violin lines and hilarious lyrics. “I brought my sister down to the ocean, but the ocean made me feel stupid,” Lekman laments in the opening lines, and later, “I picked up a shell to illustrate my homelessness, but a crab crawled out of it making it useless.” “The Opposite Of Hallelujah” is Lekman at his best, mixing poppy orchestral arrangements while dancing on the lyrical line between depressing and witty. As does the next track, the superb “A Postcard To Nina” which is the albums best example of not only Lekman’s wit, but his knack for telling hilarious stories in his songs. The track starts off with some soulful harmonies that wouldn’t be out of place on a Bee Gees record followed by Lekman’s beginning to his lyrical tale. “Nina, I can’t be your boyfriend, so you can stay with your girlfriend. Your father is a sweet old man, it’s hard for him to understand that you want to love a woman.” The track tells of Lekman posing as a boyfriend for one of his friends who is a lesbian and doesn’t want her strict Catholic father to catch on. As the song unfolds, the situation gets funnier and funnier. “Your father puts on my record, he says so tell me how you met her. I get a little nervous and change the subject, put my hands on a metal object, he jokes and tells me it’s a lie detector,” recounts Lekman. The song continues on in the same hilarious fashion as Lekman mixes up his false story again. “A Postcard To Nina” is another prime example of Lekman’s fantastic wit mixed with stunning orchestration that never feels to get your head bobbing.
“Into Eternity” takes a break from being funny and goes for romance, which Lekman also does flawlessly, this time mixing an electronic rhythm section with flutes and accordions. The obviously titled “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You” is a piano based tune driven by Lekman’s strong vocal performance and heartbreaking lyrics. “If I Could Cry (It Would Feel Like This)” is a bold move by Lekman, mainly because the song is literally the song title over and over, albeit sung beautifully and fortified through jazzy guitar strokes, grandiose violins, hand claps and perfect vocal harmonies. “Your Arms Around Me” is another hilarious tale of romance gone awry as Lekman comically describes the disastrous results of a loving gesture of his significant other. “I was slicing up an avocado, when you came up behind me, in silent brand new sneakers,” Lekman begins the song with. Later, he describes the horrible aftermath. “I see the tip of my index finger, my mind is slowly creating a link, from your mouth speaks your lovely voice, the best comments I’ve ever heard, oh honey you’ve cut off your finger, I bet that’s gotta hurt.” The way in which Lekman slowly articulates each lyric with his deep classical voice truly makes his stories that much funnier and makes “Your Arms Around Me” one of the album’s best tracks. “Shirin” is also another goofy track about Lekman’s hair dresser who runs a salon out of her garage so she can avoid paying business taxes. “I won’t tell anyone!’ Lekman wails at the end of the track.
I’m not sure I really understand “It Was A Strange Time In My Life;” not only does it start with strangest childish vocals but also seems to start with the tale of Lekman attempting to flirt with a Spanish girl who ends up giving him the middle finger, but I can’t seem to figure out if she’s deaf (as the last fine lines of the song seem to imply) nor can I figure out the lines, “I turned 17 and swore I’d never speak another word, but then someone came along and ruined everything.” Even so, it’s still just as entertaining as “Shirin” and features a particularly stunning vocal performance from Lekman. “Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig” starts off with some poppy group vocals and snapping and tells the tale of Lekman’s struggle with being awkward and nervous while with a girl. The song’s excellent use of guitar interplay with the various trumpet and bell sections makes it one of the CD’s most excellent tracks and the poppy melodies throughout make it hard to not like. The album draws to a close with “Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo” which is an absolutely ridiculous track telling of Lekman’s fascination with country folk and their obsession with playing bingo. The song itself is in the style of 50s early rockabilly with a swooning trumpet line. Despite being ridiculous, its fast pace and old fashioned swing make it a fantastic closer for the album.
To put it in a sentence, Night Falls Over Kortedala
is refreshing 51 minutes of lyrical prowess and fantastic orchestral arrangement. Even more amazing when you think about how it’s done by one guy. But the album really has it all. Lekman’s knack for writing is incredible, jumping from ridiculous stories to romantic love songs to melancholic ballads. It’s one of the few albums I’ve heard, if we assume the extremes here for a second, can make you laugh, cry and fall in love in less than an hour. And the instrumentation is fabulous in itself, as Lekman succeeds in intertwining guitar, piano, harp, accordion, flutes, strings, and trumpets, comparable to Rufus Wainwright or perhaps Sufjan Stevens, although the latter is more focused on folk based arrangements whereas Lekman's are more grandiose and less guitar based. Lekman’s voice may take some getting used to, as will the style of music. But its funny how I like to describe the music as soundtrack to a fifties film because Lekman’s dramatic voice and storytelling make as if Night Falls Over Kortedala
is a movie in itself. Anyway, Jens Lekman might take some getting used but I think anyone can come to appreciate his fantastic voice and incredible arrangement skills. I placed Night Falls Over Kortedala
in my top 5 albums of the year and it truly is Lekman’s finest work to date.