Jens Lekman once posed as his lesbian friend’s boyfriend to hide the truth about her sexuality from her parents. He found true love after nearly slicing his finger off. He ruined a party, took a tram to heaven, confused a season with a post-punk band and became infatuated with his hairdresser, a former Israeli soldier. Jens Lekman has told all of these stories on his two albums, When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog and Night Falls Over Kortedala, and expands on them in further detail in a live setting. And they all could be completely fabricated, just the products of Lekman’s own imagination, but it doesn’t even matter. He’s such a charming storyteller, and a sympathetic protagonist that he keeps us hanging on his every word, and does so with a batch of excellent indie pop melodies to match.
The funny thing about Lekman, however, is that his true-life stories are just as interesting and sometimes unfortunate as those in his songs. In 2009, he contracted swine flu, and passed on the story with the same good humor that colors all of his songs. And sometime thereafter, he moved to Australia, where he mostly played shows in people’s backyards as a way of avoiding having to get a work visa. Some of this may go to explain why it’s taken four years to get to another new set of music, but with the arrival of new EP An Argument With Myself, it’s as if no time has passed at all.
True to his role as an expert storyteller, Lekman takes the listener down a funky calypso stroll along Victoria street in the title track, the song’s arrangement slightly reminiscent of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” which he’s been known to cover live. As he gets to the chorus, Lekman begins the so-called argument with retorts like “Oh, please/ No YOU Oh, please” and “Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?” And on “Waiting for Kirsten,” Lekman paints his home town of Gothenburg, Sweden as anything other than a Socialist paradise, as per the stereotype. People stand in queues for health care, and at one point he quips, “they drew a swastika in your cappuccino.” Yet, for as dismal as he paints the state of the city, the characteristically infectious melody nonetheless lends a good amount of sweetness to the otherwise tragicomic scene.
The most affecting song on the EP, however, is “A Promise,” in which Lekman addresses a sick friend, and reassures him that they’ll take a trip to Chile some time in the future. Despite the unspoken implication that his friend might not actually get better, there’s a quality to his voice that has a healing quality all its own. Lekman’s soothing tones, as he tells of a “cool breeze in the Andes,” is comforting and familiar, and one is given the feeling of eavesdropping on an intimate, private conversation. And yet, there’s nothing uncomfortable about it; after so many years spent with his music, hearing An Argument With Myself feels like a reunion with an old friend. Here’s to hoping our future reunions with Jens Lekman will come at shorter intervals.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.