Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now

Scott Wallace
15th Feb 2017

When we last heard from Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman, he was heartbroken. Coming after his vibrant, sample-filled 2007 album Night Falls Over Kortedala, his 2012 record I Know What Love Isn't couldn't have been starker and more emotionally embattled. But while Jens' exuberance and wit may have become slightly taciturn, his status as a savant storyteller - unpicking the tiniest moments like Virginia Woolf with one lifted eyebrow - never faded. Five years later, his new record Life Will See You Now finds Lekman inhabiting a comfortable, more content place between the gleeful and the sorrowful.

The record actually opens twenty years in the past, with sixteen-year-old Jens encountering a Mormon missionary in his hometown of Gothenburg on the day of Princess Diana's death. "To Know Your Mission" is one of the most life affirming songs that Lekman has ever written, uncertain but steadfastly aspirational. He asks the missionary, "Instead of talking about religion can we just talk about how it feels to know your mission? To know what you're here for?" As he talks with the missionary (or rather, talks at the missionary) he realises, "In a world of mouths, I want to be an ear."

It's a line that informs the entirety of the rest of this lush and heartfelt record. The very next track "Evening Prayer" is an intimate and funny account of sickness from the perspective of someone not sure how much sympathy they are allowed to show. "Hotwire the Ferris Wheel," a duet with Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn (her voice husky and fulsome) is a self-referential and slightly silly tale of illegal escapism that finds Lekman vowing, "Okay, if I'm gonna write a song about this I promise I won't make it a sad song."

As always, Lekman's music veers dangerously close to Muzak, but the thrill is in seeing how he pulls it back from the edge with a wink or a tear. Much of Life Will See You Now is imbued with a bright disco sound complete with sweeping strings and syncopated bass, but Lekman's lyrics and delivery are so smart - alternately sincere and deadpan - that these songs never topple into schmaltz or redundancy. The album's first single, the steel-drum and string-laced "What's That Perfume You Wear," spirals like the olfactory reminiscence that sets it in motion, until it blooms into a wash of choral voices straight from the Pacific, and never feels anything less than sincere.

Like I Know What Love Isn't (which many will find is a much better album than they remember), this record often finds Lekman stripping back the veneer of irony that has defined his music for more than a decade. "Our First Fight" is a delicate and very honest tale in which lines like "Another discussion about some TV show that never ends. No, I haven't seen season three" cut deep. Following the cribbed disco horns and eighth-note hand percussion of "How We Met, the Long Version," the unbearably sad story of unrequited love "How Can I Tell Him," set to bright but melancholy ABBA acoustic guitars, is almost a shock.

Across these ten songs, Lekman shows a remarkable understanding of human nature, and also proves that his humour is not a crutch. While the songs tend to be less quirky and compositionally interesting than his most beloved work, as a whole they are mature and rewarding slices of life. As the album continues, it seems Lekman actually contradicts his desire to be more of an ear than a mouth; after sharing others' stories, he delves into himself in ways he never has before. This is, despite the surface levity of the songs, Jens Lekman's most confessional record.

The duo of songs that close the record are like a dark, but ultimately optimistic cliffhanger. "Postcard #17" is as visceral an illustration of anxiety as any ever put to record. The song's narrator literally confronts the manifestation of his worries, and comes out on top, a trumpet triumphantly shouting them down. Closer "Dandelion Seed" is a balm, with Lekman emerging to talk with his dear friend Lisa (who Lekman fans will know intimately) from whom he draws strength. After years of telling other people's stories, Lekman finally took the time to listen to himself. 

Life Will See You Now is out on CD, vinyl, and digital formats on Friday February 17th.