Life can derail you sometimes, but to paraphrase the opening cut to Jens Lekman’s newest LP, Life Will See You Now, the Swedish singer-songwriter knows his mission. At the end of the day, he’s a songwriter. And while he hasn’t issued a full-length in five years, that’s not to say that he hasn’t been putting in the work.
According to a press release, a full-length project centered around exploring elements of the male psyche was abandoned when things got a little too dark for the generally buoyant pop-crafter’s tastes. He followed this with the massive Postcards project, which offered up new music digitally every week in 2015. Two of these tracks, “Postcard #17” and “How We Met, the Long Version”, pop up again on this latest LP; for that matter, so does “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?”, which premiered on the WWJD mixtape in 2014. Considering he dropped over 50 songs into the digital ether since 2012’s I Know What Love Isn’t, you can’t blame him for wanting to put the spotlight on a couple of his favourites for this much more modestly-sized collection.
Having ditched that aforementioned, apparently kinda grim LP, Lekman opted to create a “colourful and happy album.” This is apparent in the soundscaping of Life Will See You Now, a record brimming with all-smiles steel drum work, gentle wave guitar strums, and an optimistic pop sheen. At times, though, the cheeriness is overbearing.
Opener “To Know Your Mission” oddly mixes together sleigh bell jingling, “Wonderful Christmastime” synths and a kettle whistle-style EDM build over a one-two, pop stompin’ beat. The song, as with the rest of the album, gets personal, as it has Lekman weighing in on meeting a Mormon missionary on the street in 1997, when he was a teenager. There’s an awkwardness to Lekman’s earnest lyrics, which set the scene by noting how it was a time when Princess Di had just died and Puff Daddy ruled the radio. It also comes with one of the sweetest notions on the record, with one of the characters explaining nobly: “In a world of mouths, I want to be an ear.”
Lekman has a keen eye for detail, almost too much. At best, it means a song like the do-do-do driven, disco-fied “Evening Prayer” mixes the heartbreak of a friend’s illness with an amusing anecdote about the time said pal gifted a 3D printer replica of his tumour to a waitress in exchange for a beer. It gets a little too precious on “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?”, where he waxes nostalgic over a mini-shampoo bottle leftover from a hotel stay with a former flame. “She’s gone forever,” he croons above a cowbell-and-coke-bottle percussion jam, adding, “at least it was real.” The minutiae is excruciating on “Our First Fight,” a diary opening entry that includes a back and forth dialogue about missing out on a particular season of a TV show.
“How Can I Tell Him,” however, is a perfectly intimate assessment of the relationship between Lekman and his best friend. While much of Life Will See You Now traffics in full-figured four-on-the-floor rhythms, the spare acoustic guitar and mandolin intro lets Lekman open up about how societal norms over the “way a man should be” mean he and his buddy aren’t exactly sure how to say how they love one another. Considering how frank he is with the rest of his life, it must’ve been an interesting conundrum. But while occasionally alluring and raw, Life Will See You Now is more often than not a testament to over sharing.
– review by Gregory Adams