Gothenburg’s boy came back from Australia! During his absence there has been a noticeable emotional shift in his output, from a cheerful ‘Wish You Were Here’ to the more sober ‘Wonder If I Should Be’ feel of An Argument With Myself. The Jens Lekman catalogue tends to rotate through joy, infatuation, droll bitterness and sorrow like the seasons; and this EP fits quite neatly here in September, where the tan begins to fade.
These five tracks (the so-called “juvenile delinquents”) sat ill with the new album, so we can only assume they, like September, bridge the gap between two extremes of weather. If you’ve seen Lekman on his most recent tour, you will have at least heard the titular song: a running dialogue between Jens and NegaJens as they pace the streets of Melbourne. He furnishes the scene with appropriately springy guitars, cowbells, and drunks “pouring out like a tidal wave of vomit” from Reggae Night at the backpacker’s hostel. You could take this very walk yourself; not only has Jens Google-mapped the whole EP on his blog, but the mental geography, too, is precisely recorded. It flows in easy-to-follow steps from “When was the last time that you smoked a cigarette / and more importantly who did you smoke it with?” to the very familiar, “why’re you hitting yourself? / why’re you hitting yourself?”
Throughout this release, Lekman further shows off his patented narrative style – that which oscillates between the funny and the crushingly profound. ‘Waiting for Kirsten’, like Godot, never meets its subject: simply sees its singer mooching in clubs and outside her hotel, feeling like a wretched “suburban boy”. The melody is thorned with folksy ’70s mandolins, blooming with violins; every now and then a melodic reference to the dewy, romantic theme of last album Night Falls Over Kortedala, but its lilt is wistful now. Then we meet, in ‘A Promise’, a sick friend forced to work by the “new laws quoting quotas they have to fill” (Lekman lightly grazing the political). The song ticks jazzily over a BB King-meets-the-Zombies rhythm, with the vow to go together to a winery in Santiago, warm and lush and the opposite of Winter.
Can you feel a motif making itself known? Something about pining for what you don’t/can’t have? Like a different hemisphere, or a possibly-famous girl called Kirsten who never arrives? That’s artistic transparency for you.
‘New Directions’ shows the upside to that constant dissatisfaction: the drive to keep looking. It’s a sly, bassy little number with call-to-arms trumpets galloping over the top. It wends its way and nods at the quotidian stuff, cars cops supermarkets, somehow breathless when it reaches its resolution: “from this point you will never be alone”. The only track here that misses the mark is ‘So This Guy At My Office’, the laid-backbeat closer with its bursts of breathy flute. After all the aural and verbal flourishes, it’s hard to accept even one “lalalalalala I love you” without cringing.
Overwhelmingly, though, Lekman does here what he has always done. He takes tacky, brassy sounds in one hand; awkward, earnest emotions in the other; and refines them till it’s obvious that these things were artful and beautiful all along. Frankly, Australia will survive, with its sunshine and huge-eyed marsupials. But Europe? Europe needs Jens Lekman, especially in September – lest we succumb to the cold and/or soul-munching cynicism forever.
Jens Lekman – An Argument With Myself EP