The new album is called Life Will See You Now. It will be out February 17th, 2017.
These are the songs on it: To Know Your Mission / Evening Prayer / Hotwire The Ferris Wheel / What's That Perfume That You Wear? / Our First Fight / Wedding in Finistere / How We Met, The Long Version / How Can I Tell Him / Postcard #17 / Dandelion Seed
The title came last second before deadline. I was panicking about that and I had a conversation about it with my girlfriend. She said "just describe to me what the album is about" and I said "well, it's about these people and it's like they're sitting in a waiting room waiting for life to start and then the nurse comes out and says "life will see you now"." Then we looked at each other and smiled and that was that.
The artwork was made by artist Klara Wiksten who made my favourite graphic novel of 2016 called Hjärnan Darrar (The Brain Trembles). A collection of stories about people who can't seem to adjust to the rules and frames of society. Her characters are humans who are very human, in all their ugliness and beauty. She ended up making an individual portrait for each song that I put on the back of the record, I guess you have to buy the physical record to see those (so please do!). It feels very different from how the album sounds and I love that. I love the contrast, to the music and to my previous more designed covers.
I'll tell you what I've been up to since my last album. That album, I Know What Love Isn't came out sept 2012. I went on tour and it was tough because that album was delicate and sad and understandably not as popular as Night Falls Over Kortedala. So going on tour and playing that album live was tough. A lot of shows were half-full and some nights it just felt like everyone was waiting to hear the old songs. I thought it didn't affect me much but I became sick over and over on those tours. And it continued when I came home, just feeling sick and worrying about being sick. Hypochondria and anxiety. But I started writing and felt inspired at first. I decided to not write about myself anymore, I was sick of Jens Lekman, I wanted to write myself out my songs. Since I had written so much about female characters before I invented a rule that I could only write about male characters to see what would happen. I started writing about masculinity, about a friend who did steroids when I grew up, about the feelings that bubbled up after being threatened with violence by some teenage boys, about the inability to express emotions and being vulnerable around other men. It got dark, it filled me with shame, it had no direction and there was no light in the end of that particular tunnel. I abandoned that idea for a while. Gave it a rest.
In 2014 I sent what I felt was an almost finished record to my label and some friends and was devastated when no one really believed in it. You see, I often feel like my music is all I have, when things go well for my music everything's great. When things go less well I am nothing. So that fall I just went around and felt worthless. I at least managed to put out a mixtape with three new songs called The WWJD Mixtape. "What's That Perfume" was on that mix. By the end of the year I knew I had to make some drastic choices to keep going.
Late 2014 I got the idea for Postcards -- to write, record and release a song for every week of 2015. It was like signing a contract with the world to keep me accountable to keep writing. I liked the idea because I had been longing to write songs without the pressure that comes when you make a record, that it should sell and be the best you've ever done and all that. I wanted to write about whatever was on my mind at the time, whatever was in the news, whatever happened on my way to work, whatever was important that week that could be completely insignificant the week after. The first weeks it freaked me out, I sat for days trying to make the songs as good as possible. But I got into the groove of it and a few months in I was writing the songs in my head as I was biking to work. I'll admit a bunch of the songs from Postcards are not more than decent, there's a lot of songs about walking for example. I like walking, but I think one song about walking is really enough, haha! But then there were other songs that came out brilliant and out of nowhere, that felt like songs I wouldn't have been able to write if it wasn't for the freedom that Postcards allowed me. And two songs (Postcard #17 and How We Met, The Long Version) ended up on the album.
Because I was making Postcards I caught the attention of Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center and subsequently The Gothenburg Biennial who offered me to do a project with them. I had at that time had the idea to write myself out of my songs for quite a while but felt like maybe that wasn't the right way to go for the album. My trustable friends who heard the songs pointed out how when I removed myself from the songs it was much harder to feel emotionally invested in them. They had a good point. Still, the idea to remove myself from my songs came also from a longing to tell other people's stories, to step into someone else's shoes. Something that had been in my mind since I started releasing music and people had started sending me very personal stories from their lives. I came up with the project Ghostwriting where I collected stories from people, interviewed them in person and then turned them into songs. At the end of 2015 I performed these songs at one show in Cincinnati and one show in Gothenburg.
Postcards and Ghostwriting helped me a lot. They worked like input and output. Postcards offering inspiration and Ghostwriting offering a break from myself. By the end of 2015 I started putting together a plan to finish a new album. I got in touch with producer Ewan Pearson who I had worked with when I was singing on Tracey Thorn's album, I knew he had a good knowledge of electronic instruments and rhythms, two things I was working with on this album. I also liked him as a person and felt some sort of trust, which was important because I've tried working with producers before and it's never worked out, mainly because I want control. This is the first album where I let go of control. I handed him the songs and made him the boss. We recorded the album mostly in Berlin and London.
I was just in Paris doing press for this album. A couple of journalists thought the album was -- get this -- too happy! I couldn't believe my ears when I heard that but after talking to some other journalists it struck me that musically it is quite a colourful and happy album. Even the saddest stories are accompanied with disco beats, calypso samples and gospel singers. In the duet Hotwire The Ferris Wheel, Tracey Thorn sings to me "if you're gonna write a song about this, then please don't make it a sad song" which was something a friend once said to me. I didn't think much about it when I wrote it but there is a feeling on this album as if I was aware that every time I write a song, I have the power to decide it it's going to be a happy memory or a sad memory. If there is a way out or not.
I think the record could've been called Either / Or if it wasn't for the fact that Elliot Smith had already borrowed that title from the danish philosopher Sören Kierkegaard's book. Because it's really an album about that transition from what Kierkegaard called the aesthetic to the ethical. It's an existentialist record, about seeing the consequences of your choices. From being a dandelion seed, blaming the wind for where it carries you, to saying the name of your fear three times in front of the mirror. Maybe this is an album about taking responsibility. How sexy isn't that?
I love growing old with my listeners because hopefully that means I can be your parallel twin that you can check in with to catch a glimpse of yourself and the path you've taken. I'm 35 now. I don't want to be any other age really. Or maybe sometimes I do. Sometimes I wish I was older, sometimes I wish I was through with this transitional phase. Being in your thirties is like your teenage years, but without all the cool role models. When you were a teenager you had the Ramones. When you're in your thirties you have the characters from Seinfeld. But anyway, as I said, I'm 35 now. So I should be writing about that.
Here's what I ended up writing about: I wrote about being close to someone who's seriously ill but not knowing exactly how close you are. About fear of conflict and the first big fight in a relationship. About a wedding I once played where I had to do some last minute counseling. About choosing who you want to be with. About a perfume that's been haunting me for years and the memories attached to this perfume. About the sadness of not being able to express love or being vulnerable with another man. About a mormon missionary I once met. About figuring out why we're here on earth. About the bridges we cross and how they burn behind us.
And that's all I can say about this right now. I'm still in the process of trying to figure out what it is I've done. If you could help me with that I'd be very grateful. These songs are yours now, take good care of them.
The brilliant Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman’s catalog is filled with wryly self-aware songs that analyze coming of age, love, friendship, and heartbreak in an entertaining fashion. Like Stephen Merritt or Jarvis Cocker, Lekman’s lyrics are unusually story-driven, often having a beginning, middle, and end rather than circling a theme poetically. His peculiar take on indie pop includes everything from Scott Walker-type baroque pop to tropically-themed exotica to sample-based electronic music. (One of his most fascinating choices was to sample Calvin Johnson’s croaking refrain from Beat Happening’s “Gravedigger’s Blues”.) On top of all that, he’s a first-rate singer with a beautiful croon that stands outside of time just like Morrissey.
Lekman’s last record, 2012’s I Know What Love Isn’t, felt out of character compared to the rest of his output. Lacking his usual effervescence, the album espoused fatigue and felt leaden throughout, although his unique strengthen as a singer, songwriter, and arranger still shined in places. Since releasing that record, Lekman embarked on some unique songwriting projects. In 2015, he made a New Year’s Resolution to write and record a song every week of the year and actually followed through on it, naming the series Postcards and uploading every single one to his Soundcloud page. Additionally, he created another series titled Ghostwriting, where he’d write songs based on stories that his audience would tell from their personal lives.
Now returning with his long-awaited fourth full-length album, Life Will See You Now, Lekman has crafted a masterful return to form that bridges the gap between the 2007 sample-based opus Night Falls Over Kortedala and the more measured full-band arrangements of I Know What Love Isn’t, creating a newfound synergy of his past and present. Life Will See You Now is a remarkably focused and well-produced record that blends upbeat '80s influenced pop and disco into Lekman’s established indie pop. You won’t hear likely many other indie pop albums as refined and rich as this anytime soon: it's full of Easter eggs lyrically and sonically and is evermore listenable because of the strength of its songs.
While Lekman mines many of the same personal concerns of his work in the past, he imbues the subject matter with a newfound sense of resolution. “Postcard #17”, a holdover from his Postcard series, rides on a sample of Charles Mingus’s “Myself When I’m Real” with Lekman singing about what he fears and culminating with a verse in which he turns round to face the fear: "Is that what I was scared of? / Fucking ridiculous.” It’s an unusually angry lyric both in language and delivery for Lekman, but the breakthrough earned here is taken to its logical conclusion in the next song, “Dandelion Seed”, which focuses on the problems of being anxious in every action you take, or, as Lekman says, building "a bomb shelter under every dream". By the end, Lekman resolves himself to let the flow of life take him like the wind takes the titular seed. The final lyric goes, “And the wind is like… a string section.” That ellipsis, that hiccup, gives us a sense of discovery, bringing the emotion that drives the seemingly maudlin realization away from cliche and into profound truth.
And that’s how a lot of this record is: intentionally cliched metaphors butting up against beautifully saccharine music that somehow rings as absolutely real. The album’s mission statement is on clear on the first track, “Know Your Mission", which is the kind of peppy indie song that you can easily imagine soundtracking the opening credits of your favorite movie. It tells the story of a Mormon missionary meeting Jens in 1997 and their subsequent conversation about what they want out of life, to which Jens responds, “But in a world full of mouths, I want to be an ear / If there’s a purpose to all of this, then that’s why God put me here.” “Evening Prayer” and “How Can I Tell Him” analyze heterosexual male intimacy in a hilariously graceful manner, similar to of Montreal’s twee classic “Tim Wish You Were Born a Girl". “Evening Prayer” is one of the album’s more disco influenced tracks, with lyrics that chronicle the relationship between Jens and a friend who survived cancer. As a coping mechanism, his friend carries around a 3-D printed model of his tumor, which unsettles Jens. But his friend comforts him, “It helps me a lot to have a friend like you / When I saw how worried you were, I knew I had to be strong.”
The incredibly infectious “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel” features one of Lekman’s very best melodies, setting you off into heaven on angelic strings and cheap-sounding electronic percussion. “Wedding in Finistere” is a horn-driven romp with a motor-mouthed chorus reminiscent of Paul Simon’s most jittery work. Lead single “What’s That Perfume You That You Wear?” is heavily percussive and danceable, with a copious amount of steel drums accenting nearly every line—it reminds one of Hot Chip’s work on One Life Stand. The lite-disco continues on the conceptual and hilarious “How We Met, The Long Version”, which tells the story of how a couple met from the beginning of the universe to the awkward start of their relationship, where Jens asks to borrow her bass guitar. “Our First Fight” is a delicate story-song vignette in which a relationship is challenged, but then resolved with that special smile that’s shared between lovers.
There’s a lot in Life Will See You Now to suggest that it’s Lekman’s finest album to date. It’s certainly his most refined and emotionally rich. But, more than anything, it reveals Lekman as a maturing songwriter and human being who’s able to roll with the life’s uncertainty and continue to make beautiful art about it.