This week's somewhat-late recommendation was made possible by the letters A and N (with a little help from a music-software program). Admiral Neck found a program that would allow us to make "videos" of all the songs that don't already have entries on YouTube. They're a bit like those educational "videos" you watched in middle school where the people behind it were too cheap to actually film their script, so they'd simply take a handful of still photos of kids with bowl haircuts and bell-bottoms acting out a morality play and run a soundtrack of dialogue over them. Think of these videos as our homemade version of What's Harry Got In His Mouth?
So, this week's selection is a song by Jens Lekman, otherwise known as the Swedish Stephin Merritt. If you don't know who Stephin Merritt is, you must this minute beg/borrow/download (i.e., steal) 69 Love Songs, his magnum opus (with one of his many bands, The Magnetic Fields). Or perhaps you are a hipster douchebag too, and know that 69 Love Songs is one of the essential albums required for membership. And that if "Grand Canyon" and "The Book of Love" don't break your heart, you probably don't have one. So there.
As I've mentioned before, Stephin Merritt is one of my all-time favorite lyricists; his lyrics are intelligent and clever and witty and occasionally incredibly sad. His arrangements are almost as interesting; his songs range over almost every conceivable genre, sometimes in loving tribute and sometimes in acid parody. They are sometimes a bit precious, but they are always knowing, willing to puncture their own importance.
Jens Lekman is very much in this mold -- intelligent, hyperliterate, and best of all, funny. Most songwriters can string together some decent-enough lyrics -- or at least make their lyrics so incomprehensible that people assume they must be deep (I'm looking at you, Michael Stipe, you jive-dancing, perpetually-terminally-ill-looking star). But Lekman is one of the few who make close attention worthwhile, and one of the even fewer who actually do it with humor. I could count on one hand the number of musicians who write (intentionally) funny lyrics (I'm avoiding your needy gaze, Weird Al Yankovic); it seems odd that there are so few lyricists that bother to try being funny, given that most other forms of entertainment, even dramatic or tragic ones, usually contain elements of humor.
Perhaps it's because most songs catch your attention with their melody (still my first requirement; a song could be a mind-bendingly brilliant poem set to music and I wouldn't care unless I liked the sound of it), and you often don't especially notice the lyrics until you've had a few listens. Maybe it's just harder to fit humor into music without sounding like a novelty act. Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen managed it, but their kind of talent is pretty rare. Or maybe it's because so many musicians are self-important douchebags who can't conceive of putting humor in their Art.
I've only listened to one of Lekman's albums so far -- Night Falls Over Kortedala -- but only because of our hard drive failure and the fact that iTunes is a shitty program that won't pull songs off my iPhone unless I've purchased them through iTunes and that won't let me put any new songs on my iPhone now without wiping my current songs off it because it thinks I'm synced to a different library and I can fix all this but it's incredibly time-consuming and annoying and arrggghhhhhhh I hate you Steve Jobs for making me love your product and then attempting to destroy that love at every turn!!!
Night Falls Over Kortedala is a good place to start, though -- it's Lekman's second full-length album, and nearly every song on it is a gem. I'm not going to do a close reading of the song this week, since Lekman's lyrics are so straightforward and front-and-center that there's not much point, but I think it's pretty obvious what's appealing about this song. Lekman's voice is Merrittian in its deep, resonant delivery, and the contrast of his throaty bass with the furious wind-up and clash of the orchestra creates a song of thrilling power. It's called "And I Remember Every Kiss", and it perfectly captures the feeling of a first kiss -- the incredible build-up, the choral explosions, the naming of deadly weapons after a beloved. The following video, I remind you, was made by Admiral Neck. See if you can spot any tell-tale signs.
The song is drenched in emotion but still has an appealing wry detachment -- "Your Arms Around Me" (the Admiral's favorite song on the album) is much the same, making a trip to the emergency room into a bittersweet love ballad. Oh, and I can't forget to mention my favorite Lekman pronunciation -- in this case, his pronunciation of "soldier". Most of the time you can't even hear his accent, and I find it strangely endearing when it comes through on certain words.
Super-special bonus Jens!! Here's the hilarious and touching retro-sounding "A Postcard to Nina". Any song that can fit in the lyric "I send back Out of Office Auto-Replies" is a classic in my book (especially since the laugh is one of guilty recognition). I hope Nina and her girlfriend had a happy ending.
ETA: Canyon posts this and The A.V. Club goes and interviews him! I truly believe they did this because of us. - AN