Our ever-so-silent Jens Lekman has been quiet for long enough. With nigh a fresh word crooned since 2005’s stupendous hodgepodge Oh You’re So Silent Jens, Swedes and Americans alike were feeling the lack. What a treat it is, then, to discover that in the interim between releases, Lekman has been carefully cobbling together Night Falls Over Kortedala, his finest, most cohesive record, and one of the best to grace chilly record store shelves this fall.
Being the bona fide Swedish pop star that he is, he might be expected to have a bit more weight upon his skinny shoulders, but you'd never think it by listening to Night Falls Over Kortedala. Lekman sounds as unassuming and earnest as they come. And better yet, the album is a tighter and snappier continuation of the same simple ground covered on 2004's When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog and the aforementioned compilation Oh You’re So Silent Jens. Here, Lekman perfectly funnels his signature sound of gentle string and horn melodies, audaciously appropriate sampling, and often corny balladry into a well-oiled, 12-song machine. The tracks work together on Kortedala to form a singular unit, blending into and constructing onto each other, often sharing the same song-building elements and even the same samples (mark the recurring doo-wops in “Postcard To Nina” and “Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig”). This is a solid improvement over his previous long-players, wherein each track tried its darnedest to be Pop Single of the Year. In short: if you took up the flag of those first albums, here’s one better.
As with his other two longer recordings, Kortedala is pieced together from several years of work, this time with songs originating from as far back as 2004. It’s interesting to see how little Lekman’s songwriting interests shifted over those seemingly tumultuous years (remember that Lekman quit the music game for two whole days back in 2006, scrapping the album that Kortedala is now taking the place of, giving up his most prized ukulele to a fan, and taking a job in a bingo hall). He still brazenly carries his wit, charm, and lovelorn heart on his sleeve. Consider Kortedala’s first single, “Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo,” a bouncy ode to those days of employment and the muse that rushed Lekman back into his passion. Passing references to the Swedish countryside, beating hearts, and copulating bunnies are images that could easily be plucked from the bosom of any of Lekman’s previous songs. And yet the stellar production and orchestration makes the track -- actually, all of the tracks -- rise above his past fanfare. A whimsical horn, galloping stick drumbeats, handclaps, accordion, violins, piano -- it would be an understatement to say Lekman packs it all in tightly. The layers flow in concert, assembling one of Lekman’s most assured pop songs and a wonderfully upbeat album closer.
There are too many high points to list. “Sipping On The Sweet Nectar” is a glorious ’70s soul jam, replete with buzzing horns, tribal bongo drumming, and a touch of funk peppered in. That Lekman's voice sounds so right hovering above it is baffling. The previously released “The Opposite of Hallelujah” retains all of its charms in this larger context, the sweet beachside tale cast as a twinkling complement to its neighboring tracks. “Shirin” is the story of the heavenly haircut depicted on the album’s cover. The song is stark and beautiful, Lekman’s vocals hitting the high notes and almost uncomfortably praising the hands behind the shears: “Your hands are soft/ Your hands are soft just like silk/ You’re a drop of blood/ You’re a drop of blood in my glass of milk.” The all-too-familiar ‘pretend to date a lesbian so her father doesn’t get mad’ story behind “A Postcard to Nina” is endearing enough to inspire the mildest of expletives from Lekman when he realizes he’s in over his head, possibly falling for the leading lady. The song is grand, mutating and shifting all over the sonic scale, and yet it doesn’t even cover half the ground that “Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig” does. One of the most minimal songs on the album, but also one of the most versatile, it’s a sterling example of Lekman’s efficiency with sampling. There are few things better than hearing the stuttering horn breaking down and fading into the song’s background at the conclusion. Seriously, it’s so good.
Close us out, Jens: “This of course has nothing to do with anything/ I just get so nervous when talking to you.” But if Night Falls Over Kortedala is supposed to be evidence of his bashfulness, his case has a lot of holes.