Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala

Jens Lekman
Night Falls Over Kortedala

When the young folks find gangster rap, Sweden, too, is a dangerous place. Jen Lekman would have us believe that back in the day Hammer Hill, the Gothenburg suburb he grew up in, changed when friends got a hold of NWA and Snoop Dogg albums.

It’s tough to tell whether or not he’s joking about his childhood friends being in “jail or dead” as a result of rap – like he’s said in interviews. The content of his songs is so ironic, and precise in showing us Lekman’s little fascinations and romantic yearning. For example, the last track on Night Falls Over Kortedala manages to drench a song about a depressing bingo hub for lower class gamblers into swelling piece of violin stringed romanticism.

Lekman is a flagrant exaggerator, if not a downright liar. Maybe he wishes morbidly that his friends were dead or maybe they aren’t and still do regular stuff in that little town – going to sleep at 9 p.m. with most of the natives. It sure wouldn’t be much fun if they were alive. And that’s really what this album is about.

Night Falls Over Kortedala should appeal to American audiences that listen to gangster rap at dance parties with a go ahead nod from Girl Talk. But also, enough personal experience and reflection is put into this three year in the making, that die-hard Morrissey fans can safely shrug off the glaring ape job done upon their savior’s croon. Lekman mourns, sings, and swoons. It’s pretty hard to turn down, just as his collection of self-referencing, string heavy ballads You‘re So Silent Jens was.

Come for the emotion; stay for the gangster mocking. We promise you won’t get shot.

He ain’t a gangster, but he breaks some rules here. Part of the fun of this record is listening for those little glitches, the moments where Lekman puts down the role of writer, and steps right into the songs whether the precious things want him there or not.

“If I could cry it would be like this,” Lekman says in “If I Could Cry (It Would Be Like This).” In this song Lekman employs a most creative way to introduce a music solo. The lyrical equivalent “Night” would be when Jens signs his own name in the song (it’s pronounced Yens).

In “Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig” midway through there’s a break that sounds like shards of glassing falling over the dance party. A Motown guitar vamp keeps the song in line before some odd edit splicing disrupt the guitar lead. Then the lead comes back again in triumphant form, scaling down the fret before making way for some vintage brass notes that are cut into tiny pieces. The song falls away from you. It’s the track you play again.

“I’m Leaving Because I Don’t Love You” gives us the easiest entry point. Lekman shows us the importance of being earnest.

“I’m so sorry I couldn’t love you enough/I’m so sorry that I’m leaving you”

All plunks and piano for a starlit night with a little too much light pollution. This is the sound of busy boulevards at night and the love that gets carried away. Lekman writes about many different places; he’s been from Bingo Halls to Berlin. This kind of life leaves love as shadowy footprints, and this little charmer knows it. The melancholic tone of this single worthy track reflects Lekman’s deft ear for the sadness.

Earlier it was established that Lekman was a liar. That’s unfair. Especially when he lays bare one principle that threads the album. He’s really about love. He’s a martyr for love. And he’s living in Richard Hell’s world, where love comes in spurts. In the opening track huge orchestra waves wash over his Declaration in “Man Needs a Maid,” London Orchestra style: “I will never kiss any one who doesn’t burn me like the sun.”

Later he writes a very touching “A Postcard to Nina,” who turned out a lesbian, which made it hard for Lekman to accept the loss. We are told he writes “you because I think about you every second.” He doesn’t return her father’s phone calls to him, his father rather liked Jens, he listens to Jens’ record. Soul singers snap and welcome Lekman’s horn section and Lekman’s little outbursts – “Oh God what have I done/I came to Berlin to have some fun!” He wrestles with this story beautifully until the end when the resignation and the passing comes.

A soft brass bridge hits before Lekman finally tells her, “Don’t let it any one stand in your way/ Your’s Truly, Jens Lekman.” This is the key track, the one fans have been requesting and relished at most of Lekman’s shows of the past three years.

But there’s more jokes. What a subversive little compiler Lekman is. Most artists holding onto the notion of a concept album (this one being Jens’ home Kortedala and the way it seems face-to-face and on the road) always leave those sad sack songs for the end, all profound. But Lekman leaves us with a story from his two days working at the drive-in bingo hall in Sweden. The pulse of “Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo” echoes the rollicking gallop of mercurial-era Bob Dylan. He’s even riding on a little motor bike; probably as clumsy as Dylan too. Lekman’s ideas about gambling also mimic those epic Dylan tracks.

“Riding on my moped looking for fun/staring into the blood red sun/The country road is a boulevard/with neon lights and nights open bars/ In my jacket a pack of playing cards/Just Jacks, Jokers and a queen of hearts/my heart is beating, beating like Ringo as I pull into the Drive-In bingo

Images of Dylan’s rhapsodic “Lilly and the Jack of Hearts” from his post-motorcycle crash masterpiece Blood on the Tracks come directly to mind. With a horn line fit for a sitcom full of silly white people, “Drive Inn Bingo” ends on a high note. To think this is what Lekman makes of the Drive In bingo. Listening to Lekman’s take on a very unromantic scene where the desolate folk travel to gamble their last dollar or just fall asleep, is like watching magic live or something. How Lekman’s world drips romantic all the time.

Think of what he could do with your life.