Life Will See You Now

Jens Lekman, a Swedish chanteur nonpareil, has produced what is easily (at least, at this point in late February), my favorite album of the year so far. Blending styles as disparate as calypso, disco, folk, and indie pop, Life Will See You Now is a triumph of a record. Unabashedly, unreservedly, this is a fantastic album. Occasionally, it suffers from an abundance of over-earnest, almost saccharine outpouring of emotion. But it’s forgivable under the circumstances – Lekman manages to make the songs on this album so heartbreaking, so real, and so cutting, that the odd misstep is waved away with few reservations.

Lekman’s subtle lyricism is easily my favorite part of the album. His greatest triumph is “Wedding in Finistere,” a song heavily indebted to nothing other than Paul Simon’s Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard. The central image is this: the narrator is booked at a wedding in the farthest reaches of Brittany, France. And it includes such a delightful chorus that I cannot help but reproduce the image here: the bride, sitting and smoking on the pier, says she’s feeling like the “Five year olds, watching the ten year olds shoplifting, the ten year olds watching the fifteen year olds watching the French kissing, the fifteen year olds watching the twenty year olds chain smoking, the twenty year olds watching the thirty year olds vanishing.” Chilling, at best (at least, to someone past 30 and worried about his own inevitable fade-out into irrelevance). It encompasses such a wealth of experience, from the hesitant wonder of childhood to the cynical experience of young adulthood, that I am bowled over. It’s such a wonderful chain of thought that it is hands-down the pinnacle of the album’s unparalleled lyricism. But that’s not to say that his other work is mediocre: the details of the tenuous relationship in songs like “Our First Fight” or the wonderfully sexually-ambiguous “How Can I Tell Him” are so trenchant and cutting, that I cannot help but assign this album an importance the likes of which cannot be matched so far, at least, this year.

Take “How We Met, the Long Version,” which is a wonderful exploration of physics, geological history, and astronomy. When Lekman means “the long version,” he means it: the song takes three minutes to describe the slow, languourous development of the planet Earth, Cambrian explosions and all, to get to his final point: the be all and end all of evolution is his partnership with the subject of the song. He reduces all of human (and otherwise) history to a single moment of borrowing a bass guitar, and a clandestine kiss under the stars. Or take “Postcard #17,” a vampiric allegory that would make John Lindqvist proud, or the autobiographical “To Know Your Mission,” where Lekman pines about hoping to be an “ear in a world full of mouths.” Or “Evening Prayer,” a terrifyingly subtle song about surviving cancer. There’s no end to the pain and regret here, but it works so well.

In the end, the complaints I have about this record are minor at best. The specificity of the lyrics, the hopeful yet melancholy nature of the songs, the open and genuine treatment of the subject matter, all combines to make for a tour de force of an album. We should all be so lucky to have such, in Lekman’s own words, a “dream, a GPS in your heart, a path to follow, through the dark.”

Final Verdict: 8 out of 10.