Night Falls Over Kortedala

Band: Jens Lekman
Album: Night Falls Over Kortedala
Best song: “A Postcard to Nina” is gorgeous. “Sipping on the Sweet Nectar” is lovely.
Worst song: “If I Could Cry (It Would Feel Like This)” is my least favorite song on the album and it’s still amazing.

A quick disclaimer: Part of the joy of writing a blog/self-publishing is that you don’t have to go through anyone else to get your work out there. This review is sort of another opus of mine, a culmination of a lot of what’s going in my head, soundtracked by my favorite Swede. The piece has gone through several edits. It took over a week to write, then I put it down and picked it back up this week. I struggled a lot with the question of asking someone else to look at it before I posted it. So, I didn’t. I’ve simply let it simmer for nearly a year, re-edited it and posted it.

I listened to the album seemingly a million times. It never got old and it remains a favorite. I guess those two sentences should be the entirety of the review, as they really reflect the quality of the record. Oh, also, Pitchfork gave it a 9.0 out of 10. If you can’t trust me, you can trust Pitchfork’s far better review.

With all that said, the intellectual masturbation follows. I can’t imagine you want to read that, so, if you want some real masturbation, go over to SuicideGirls (NSFW, duh). If you want something smart to read, check out Slate. If you want to read about my half-brained feelings on love, relationships and the brilliance of Jens Lekman, carry on.

“Being in love means you are completely broken.”
-Songs:Ohia, “Being in Love

“All you need is love.”
The Beatles, “All You Need is Love”

Jens Lekman’s second album is, by no means, a concept album. Songs on Night Falls Over Kortedala touch on his immigrant hairdresser, the nature of being shy and his job at a bingo joint in Sweden.

But, Lekman understands the concept of love in a way that few songwriters — hell, writers of any medium — seldom do. Instead of writing of how one can be amazed, Lekman understands that love as a splendored thing is often nostalgia, seeing the past through rose-colored glasses. As such, Lekman’s absorption in love flits and fancies around swirling strings while reminiscing his early ventures into the emotion.

On the flip side, Lekman understands that loves sometimes, well, bites. It hurts, scars, wounds and marks. He writes that you sometimes have to leave someone, because you don’t love them. And that sometimes, you can’t be everything to a friend. Try as you might, that whole beard thing can be far too complicated.

But, infatuation is not foreign to this well-spoken foreigner. He’s nervous around girls, loves their touch and sometimes has to tell silly stories just to start.

Night Falls Over Kortedala might be the best album to come out in the last five years. Towing the line between Sufjan Stevens, the Magnetic Fields and Of Montreal, Lekman’s production is sample-heavy and robust. In lieu of a four-piece rock band…  Bells, vibes, keyboards and strings dot the album. Orchestras swirl, little horns bleat and Lekman’s “boyfriendable baritone” (as said by Pitchfork) leads the way.

The album opener, “And I Remember Every Kiss,” begins with timpani and strings. Lekman intones that “There will be no kisses tonight,” then carefully sketching how he feels about the most primary of physical intimacy. Lekman’s obsession with his first kiss is romanticized, but said kiss is a stand-in for his kisses since, as he croons “I’ll never kiss anyone/ Who doesn’t burn me like the sun,” hitting the final syllables on each line. His passion overwhelms the song, an overture of samples and strings, as he sings a “My Way” style of regret lines:

I know I’ve broken some hearts, I understand
some firecrackers blow up in your hand
oh I fucked up, I’ve always tried to be true

“And I Remember Every Kiss” sets up the album, a nostalgic sway of an album, telling stories and evoking real life, using the first of the album’s lovely non-sequiturs, comparing aging to becoming a solider.

“The Opposite of Hallelujah” is, like Death Cab For Cutie’s “Photobooth,” a sweet retelling of a moment in time. With a backing vocal assist by El Perro Del Mar, the song recounts Lekman’s advice to his sister on a beach excursion. Using his brotherly advice, he laments not knowing his sister well, his own fears and, getting defensive, repeats the overwhelming lack of understanding of his situation. Wounded, Lekman ends the song — as the spiraling strings engulf him and bells mirror the melody — singing “You don’t know what I’m going through.”

Building off “And I Remember Every Kiss,” the song starts recounting his first kiss, saying “Well, how can I forget?” Instead of an overture, though, the song has the dance rhythm of a disco-era Bee Gees song. As strings crescendo, the song begins with flutes and horn samples. As the chorus opens, bongos thump and bells ring. It’s a cacophony of pleasant sounds; you have expect to hear birds chirping –indeed, some of the flutes sound like bird calls — and see someone running throuh a field of daisies. Lekman’s voice intones the absolute need for nostalgia. “Sipping on the sweet nectar of your memories” is the through line of the song and Lekman’s voice fills the lyric with passion and immediacy.

A true romantic, Lekman explains a conversation with his “only friend” wherein he mentions that “every heartbeat needs a reason.” Evntually, Lekman — over the song’s complex arrangement of samples, horns, and synthesized strings — submits to reflection, singing “I take a sip/I let it wet my lips/I think back on that kiss/I gotta start sipping on the sweet nectar.”

The song’s earlier verse, of course, marks the confusion and complexity inherent in romance. Lekman’s grasp of this complexity is amazing, as he sings “Sipping On The Sweet Nectar:”

Well sometimes I almost regret it
like I regret my regrets
I see myself on my deathbed saying
“I wish I would have loved less”

Look, romantic love is horrifying. Rather, the idea of love is frightening on a level I not sure think anyone understands. It’s so full of excitement and passion and change and variables. There’s such peril in losing control, giving one’s heart to another person. It’s exhilarating at one time and then, poof. Gone.

Your heart is broken, but, moreso, your brain is broken. You live a saturnine existence, waking up late and showering slowly. You wake up in the middle of the night. Every temperature seems too hot, too cold. You have fucked up dreams. You’re lonely and discombobulated. You try to get through a normal day, but it just doesn’t work. You can’t stop thinking about her.

And it’s horrifying. And, oh, does it hurt.

But, there is huge value — both as someone in a relationship and for those remembering expired relationships — in remembering the reason it existed. Sharing your vulnerabilities, your time, your body and your existence with another person is lovely. Having her do that to you is amazing and the most satisfying, interesting and all-out-pleasant feelings in the world. It’s riveting and great and beautiful. Moment-to-moment, it’s the greatest feeling. And that’s worth celebrating. Lekman understands that.

“Your Arms Around Me” retells an accident wherein Lekman’s love consoles him as he injures himself. The sweet lover’s embrace is similarly described as a moment “To take with me into eternity.” Lekman’s ability to marry different genres with the correct lyrical rhythms is unparalleled and Night Falls Over Kortedala shows this. “You Arms Around Me” is just the best example. Over a calypso beat, Lekman describes the fateful reality of the finite nature of his relationship:

I have a love
I have a love for this world,
A kind of love that will break my heart
A kind of love that reconstructs and remodels the past
That adds a dryness to the dry August grass
That adds the sunshine to the magnifying glass
And makes me fight for something that just can’t last

Tragic as it is, its beauty is the essence of romantic love. Their love is incomplete, somehhow. Maybe she’s lacking a single quality he needs; maybe he can’t always be there for her emotionally. Either way, the fatal flaw of their relationship is evident and Lekman and his lady are lucky to simply stop time in a single embrace. In love. “But I’m a prisoner of this moment with you in my arms,” he sings, as the accordion leads the way.

Indeed, the tragic nature of relationships is the subject of “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You.” Over a Roland-esque electronic drum beat, a pitch-shifted sample and a tinny children’s piano riff, Lekman sings of ashtma and the unhappy fate of being the one-obsessed-over in a lop-sided relationship. Eventually, he simply tells Nicole, “I’m so sorry I couldn’t love you enough,” echoing the feelings of so many in the same situation. Though he would love to kiss her “lips I’ve loved, that I was dreaming of,” but his judgement is far better than that.

“If I Could Cry (It Would Feel Like This)” is among the album’s best-arranged songs, but lyrically is sparse. Lekman’s swirling chorus is a ballroom menagerie, though the lyric is, basically, just the title. It’s a fun song, though probably the weakest on the album.

Lekman understands love. He understands the infatuation, the maturation and the dissolution of said love. He understands the onset of said love. The early walks down the street goofing, the giddy anticipation of a first date, the rambling jokes, the embarrassing miscues ultimately forgiven, the nervous flirting.

Lyrically, Lekman is a strong writer. His status as a native Swedish speaker would seem to be a hurdle to English-language songs, but it’s anything but that. Lekman’s slightly accented singing and his stilted stream-of-consciousness lyrics lend a charm lacking in all too many records.

He taps into his lyrical charm by evoking the beginning of a relationship with the first verse of “Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig,” the Swedish for “Maybe I’m in Love with You.” Thinking of a first date or, perhaps, an early meeting at a party or online chat, Lekman’s first verse is delightful in its ease-of-imagination.

I saw on TV about this little kid
Who had a pig for a pet.
His mom had once been attacked by a dog.
So a pig was the closest thing he could get.

This has of course nothing to do with anything.
I just get so nervous when I’m talking to you.
All I think about everyday is just kissing you.
An old feeling that feels refreshingly new.

(I took to this verse almost entirely because I once spent half an early date talking about helper monkeys. You know, the animals trained to help disabled people. This, of course, was with someone whom I came to date for a long time, so these type of conversations aren’t damning.)

The song’s later lyric similarly reflect the best of relationships, the goofing off, the ease-of-placement. For someone shy like Lekman, this comfort is the definition of such a relationship, as he finishes the English lyrics with “I think I’m gonna drop my cool now/The best way to touch your heart is to make an ass of myself.”

The album isn’t entirely about love, of course, though it is a constant theme. “It Was a Strange Time in my Life” is about Lekman’s feelings on shyness (best lyric: “Most shy people I know are extremely boring/Either that or they are miserable from all the shit they’ve been storing.”).

“Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo” features a lovely according/saxophone melody as the driver of the song. Describing a job he held, Lekman’s baritone relays the characters and mood set in Kortedala. Watching animals have sex. Making up names. Small town/neighborhood stuff.

“Shirin” is a similar story, a string-infused repetitive story of Lekman’s hairdresser, an immigrant from the Middle East. Again, his lyrical ability shines in the song, as he compares his hair to “frizzy straws” and drops the Iraq war not as a political statement, but as a sad reality.

“A Postcard to Nina,” the album’s overwhelming higlight, is a sluggishly tempo-ed masterpiece of a song. The true story, put to song, of Lekman visiting a friend in Germany is brilliantly written in a simple, prose-like verse reminiscent of the best conversational songwriters (because I’m predictable, let’s say the writing reminds me of Elliott Smith’s best work).

The song’s is a bout of storytelling, with Lekman opening with the idea that “I can be your boyfriend, so you can stay with your girlfriend.” Basically, Lekman’s friend is gay, but her father is a religious Catholic that can’t accept her sexuality. Lekman visits her, to play her boyfriend. The visit is wildly uncomfortable, with Lekman looking for nonverbal cues on answers. Some misunderstandings ensue.

The song is downtempo, with bells and bass and ukulele marking the melody. Lekman’s delivery is perfect, rushing some verses more than others and holding on others. Conversational and sweet, “A Postcard to Nina” marks Lekman’s best delivery on an album of near-perfect delivery.

To say the song isn’t a love song is probably silly, though. It’s a song about the perils of love and the strength of a platonic relationship. Lekman’s tender touch is amazing on the final verse and coda when he lends his friendship, support and love to Nina on his sign off:

Nina I just want to check in,
Because I think about you every second.
So I send you this postcard just to say
don’t let anyone stand in your way.
Yours truly, Jens Lekman.

The song ends with Lekman crooning his advice over a sweet melody. “Don’t let anyone stand in your way,” he sings over more robust arrangements.

Like so many great records, it’s really hard to describe how amazing the song is. It has the best of Lekman’s work. It has a wide range of instrumentation, with bells and glockenspiels. It has the random observations that Lekman knows, like when he mentions that Nina’s father is emailing Lekman all the time, but he just sends back of out office replies. And is has Lekman’s wonderful voice crooning “Don’t let anyone stand in your way.”

It’s lovely advice, suitable for someone with a broken heart, someone in a new city with a prejudiced father or for just about anyone. Lekman’s lyrical universality, of course, is one of his great assets.

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