An Argument With Myself
Label: Secretly Canadian
It’s been quite some time since we’ve heard anything from Sweden’s Jens Lekman. In 2007, he released the wonderful Night Falls Over Kortedala, his sophomore full-length release filled with perfectly placed hooks, memorable melodies and his patented witty lyricism. Lekman, maybe surprisingly, found a relative amount of success brandishing an amalgamation of nostalgic aesthetics. Kortedala was the Beach Boys mixed with a little Destroyer and Serge Gainsbourg. An Argument With Myself, his latest EP, is another grab bag of sorts, showing off the many shades of his talents.
Opening track “An Argument With Myself” is the Lekman most listeners will recognize. Atop a sunny, Belafonte-esque set of chords, he delivers his disconnected drawl, sounding like a Swedish Morrissey in all the right ways. He swiftly switches between spoken-word interludes and sung, lonely wails as he wanders from Elizabeth Street to Bev and Mick’s backpacker hostel. Argument is infused with this type of location-specific lyricism, lending a certain familiar charm to each of the stories. “A Promise” unfolds in similar fashion, an earworm-y violin riff providing the base to the cooing vocals and a sparse piano line. The bubblegum pop tone provides a noticeable and purposeful contrast to the lyrical subject matter, as Lekman tries to comfort Immanuel, a character (maybe?) with a terminal illness. Though poised for sentimentality, the track is more overtly political – “Immanuel, will your doctors let you be ill?/ Or are the new laws quoting/ quotas they have to fill?” – as Immanuel is merely a pawn to forward an ideology. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does leave the track feeling like a construction rather than a meaningful story.
Sometimes, though, the stories, however interesting and quirky they may be, are hindered by poor execution. Album closer “So This Guy At My Office” is too lethargic to really transcend the ’70s AM radio feel of its structure, while “New Directions” has a memorable horn section, but not much else. “Waiting For Kirsten,” a song about semi-stalking Kirsten Dunst at a hotel while she was filming Melancholia, is the EP’s redeeming track. It takes the political edge of “A Promise” and blends it with an endearing story of stunted lust alongside string swells and plucked mandolin. Unlike some of the contrived elements of “So This Guy At My Office,” the quirks on this track feel honest, indebted to a kind of “I couldn’t make this stuff up” brand of storytelling. Lekman’s drunken lament over never actually meeting Kirsten doubles as a mournful ode to a town he once knew, a town that’s barely familiar to the indie-pop artist anymore. He closes out the track with a line that stings with disillusion: “And I wrote this confession/ With the lipstick from his girlfriend/ On the back of a receipt/ But the receptionist said I was drunk/ And asked me to leave.”
Though one could argue that the EP never quite coalesces, such a critical opinion would seem nitpicky. Instead, An Argument With Myself is a diverse, if not scattered effort that showcases Lekman’s undeniable talent as a songwriter and pop-song constructor. Though the record feels somewhat incomplete, there’s enough of Lekman’s patented playfulness to make it a worthwhile listen, especially for those who’ve been longing to hear the Swede offer a new spin of his whimsical tales since 2007.