Having surveyed the year-end lists of 'best albums' from Pitchfork and the like, I'd like to chime in with perhaps my favorite from 2017 (not that anyone asked). 'Life Will See You Now' by Jens Lekman, the amiable Swedish singer-songwriter, has become unexpectedly near and dear to me. While it seems that many critics had no problems with the record, I was surprised to see it absent from many major recaps. Nevertheless, it grew on me such that I'm willing to put it near the top of my list. It's also probably one of the first records where lyrics have meant much, if anything, to me.
I've taken to describing this record as, in short, really good pop music. And Lekman occupies a unique space within pop (in style, but neither necessarily nor likely in mainstream success). His songs are, lyrically speaking, oftentimes absurd and, in some instances, utterly melancholic. He favors sample-heavy backing tracks that balance equal parts cheese and whimsy paired with an ear for hit-making, not unlike that of fellow Swede and producer-to-the-stars Max Martin. 'Life Will See You Now' puts this combination on stark display, with tightly produced, feel-good instrumentals underscoring themes like aging, existential anxiety, and 3D-printed tumors. Hmm.
In the liner notes, Lekman elaborates,
it’s really an album about that transition from what Kierkegaard called the aesthetic to the ethical. It’s an existentialist record, about seeing the consequences of your choices. From being a dandelion seed, blaming the wind for where it carries you, to saying the name of your fear three times in front of the mirror. Maybe this is an album about taking responsibility. How sexy isn’t that?
All this from a record that contains a hopelessly addictive, Ralph MacDonald-sampling nu-tropical epic like 'What's That Perfume That You Wear'? Indeed, it's inexplicably fun. Lekman's post-ironic tunes inhabit a middle ground of interpretation; the record is, on a base level, really catchy (and sometimes that's good enough), but it's also a maudlin, introspective endeavor. In 'Evening Prayer', overtop an almost sarcastically bright track, Lekman wonders if he's actually close enough to a dying friend to pray for them. Later, he reckons with an acquaintance pressuring him not to write a sad song about a reckless night on the town, as is apparently his tendency. Finally, on 'How We Met, The Long Version', he offers a short history of the universe that results in a pretty normal romantic meeting (Hey, can I borrow your bass guitar?). Fate is at once magical and mundane.
I guess I'm aging too -- the ravages of time spare none! -- and, even though I hopefully have more to look ahead at than behind, Jens has me thinking (yeah, I'm 21 now, what a pity). If nothing else, maybe what I take most from this effort is the value of attempting to pair optimism -- in this case, through Lekman's instrumentals -- alongside interpretations of the good, the bad, and the fucked-up.