Blake B 104
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Jens Lekman -- I Know What Love Isn't
by Nathan Kahn on September 8, 2012
Jens Lekman had a really cool thing going on for a while. He'd sing about asthma and break ups over four chords, pretty much consistently for the last eight or nine years. It was great. 2007's Night Falls Over Kortedala was easily one of the best records of the last decades. He was, however, pretty well known also for doing the same thing over and over again. Luckily, his newest LP, I Know What Love Isn't, is (while still clearly maintaining a Lekman aesthetic) a whole different animal.
It turns out I Know What Love Isn't is narratively consistent in a way Jens Lekman had avoided until recently. Lekman, well known for being uncomfortable with the album format, tended to leave anything past songcraft to others. His 2005 cut Oh You're So Silent Jens was a collection of singles, and he let a group of friends choose what songs were cut from Night Falls. I Know What Love Isn't, on the other hand, is pretty much entirely about heartbreak, one of just many reasons this newest LP is much less accessible than the majority of Lekman's work.
Gone, for the most part are the exuberantly chorused choruses; gone (mostly) are the four minute vignettes about whatever seems to catch his fancy. I wouldn't call it particularly stripped down, though. An extreme example is the seventies lounge pop stuff going on in the second track, "Erica America." It's almost ridiculously schmaltzy: there's some lounge jazz saxophone going on, and even a Spanish guitar solo.
It turns out, however, that schmaltz is Jens Lekman's wheelhouse. Dude revels in schmaltz, he paints with it, creating a sonic depth one might not expect from a chord progression that owes itself to some third rate hotel lounge bands. It's great. Even stripped down and serious, as Lekman becomes in "Become Someone Else's," his lyrics are structured almost playfully, referencing the title when you least expect it.
I Know What Love Isn't isn't your mother's Jens Lekman, certainly. The pop sensibility Lekman utilizes on the album requires some consideration, something Lekman's work has heretofore rarely needed. That said, it's worth the time: his sort of elevator hotel musak masks a serious lyrical deftness, supported by the almost laughably iconic sonic oomph of sappy lounge pop that makes for a fantastic record.