Jens Lekman has been quoted as saying that he prefers not to release whole albums but rather spend his time crafting individual songs. I have been quoted (in this review, natch) as saying more power to him. If Jens wants to keep making such perfect little pop gems, I for one will be here to listen to them for a long time to come.
Anyway, like his previous record, When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog, Oh You're So Silent Jens is actually a compilation of sorts, though you'd never guess it from the track arrangement. Until the very end of the album, when we are treated with a few hard-to-find tracks, everything feels perfectly put together. The opening trifecta of "Sky Phenomenon," "Pocketful of Money," and "Black Cab" all prove a more than passing knowledge of carefully arranged, polished, and joyful pop, and "Rocky Dennis' Farewell Song" has wonderful drums, string arrangements, and piano flourishes.
Above all, Jens' voice is great, uniformly compelling, with an honesty and depth of observation that seems astonishing in such a young guy. Even in mentioning Mark E. Smith in a song or sampling Calvin Johnson, what comes across is not the wit of the lyric, but the sense of a glimpse into another life. What might at first seem like novelty (the aforementioned Calvin sample, the song "I Saw Her at the Anti War Demonstration") somehow instead bridges the distance between listener and musician, effortlessly.
Also, it's funny, which is amazing. It seems like a rare thing for wit to really work well in an album. Something about the repetitive nature of listening to music makes most "funny music" stale so quickly that it's not even worth listening at all. Maybe it's something about living overseas. The British did it fantastically well, but after all they had that music hall tradition to rely on. My own theory has to do with language. It seems to me that when you make observations in a foreign tongue, you're forced to be far more careful about what you say and how you say it. People like Björk or The Kinks (admittedly two very different kinds of foreign) have adapted English pop music to their own needs and ended up with very real innovations. In Jens' case, the careful phrasing of his stories really strikes you with its biographical approach. Needless to say, Oh You're So Silent Jens hides a great deal of pain inside its failed parties, social awkwardness, Vegan pancakes, and spilled beer.
While a friend of mine handed me this album with the look of a believer in his eye, my own first impression was a kind of grudging respect. However, by the time I got to the more introspective suite of "Rocky Dennis" songs that make up the middle portion of the album, it was the utter confidence of the music that had really started to impress me. It's there in a willingness to try new things that seems unusual in a compilation of singles, and in the musical exploration that is so obviously progressing right in front of you.
There seems to be a new type of up-and-coming musician emerging, a breed of hard-working, earnest, adorable young men doing basically their own thing, in their own room. There is just something so appealing about such guileless, honest music, music that sounds like it was easily made, and that makes it look so easy to do. Jens Lekman is a nice guy; he makes nice music for nice people. You should listen to him sometime.
1. At the Dept. of Forgotten Songs
2. Maple Leaves [EP Version]
3. Sky Phenomenon
4. Pocketful of Money
5. Black Cab
6. Someone to Share My Life With
7. Rocky Dennis' Farewell Song
8. Rocky Dennis in Heaven
9. Jens Lekman's Farewell Song to Rocky Dennis
10. Julie [Remix]
11. I Saw Her in the Anti War Demonstration
12. Sweet Summer's Night on Hammer Hill
13. Man Walks into a Bar
14. Another Sweet Summer's Night on Hammer Hill
16. Wrong Hands
17. Maple Leaves [7" Version]