Seriously humorous indie-pop

   From the album jacket
   From the album jacket
Posted: October 10, 2012

He might be the most droll songwriter in indie-pop, and on songs like "Waiting for Kirsten" from last year's EP An Argument With Myself or "I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots" from his new album I Know What Love Isn't, the Swedish singer can be a veritable laugh riot.

But don't get the idea that Jens Lekman is not a serious man.

"I like telling stories with a sense of humor," says Lekman, who will play a show with his band at Union Transfer on Thursday night. "But humor can also distance you from the subject you're writing about. I'm interested in using humor as a portal to something a bit more serious."

It might seem that the 31-year-old songwriter is just goofing around when he sings, for instance, "It's bigger than an iceberg, than the plume of a geyser / And it's bigger than the spider floating in your cider," on "The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love." But he's actually tossing those rhymes around like a Scandinavian rapper in the service of the noblest of goals: writing a pop song about heartbreak that is surprising, clever, and, yes, heartbreaking.

The last time he came through town, in October 2011, Lekman played the Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square. He covered the Stylistics' underappreciated Philly soul classic "Can't Give You Anything (But My Love)," with his pals in the Philadelphia all-male chorus Silver Ages backing him up. That night he talked about how he was introduced to baseball when he went to a Phillies game in 2008, and as he followed the team that year, he noticed that as the team prospered on its way to winning the World Series, his own fortunes suffered.

"The Phillies were getting better and better, and my life was getting worse and worse," he says. Talking on the phone last week from the office of his Secretly Canadian record label in Bloomington, Ind., Lekman declined to elaborate about his 2008 annus horribilis. "It was just not a very good year," he says. "And it culminated around the time the team won the World Series. I still wear my Phillies cap with pride, though."

I Know What Love Isn't is every bit the charming pop album as his 2004's When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog and 2007's Night Falls Over Kortedala. While the songs on the new album were written during the same period as those on 2011's An Argument With Myself, which was flavored with ebullient Afropop and tropicalia rhythms, the songs on the new album are "a little more direct," he says, in their lyrical approach.

Despite the unadorned and deeply affecting simplicity of songs like "The World Moves On" - "When you get your heart broken, the world just shrugs its shoulders / And keeps going, it just moves on in all its sadness and glory" - that doesn't mean Lekman is turning into a somber sourpuss.

One of his guiding principles, he says, is the 10th of the The 10 Rules of Rock and Roll as enumerated in a book of that title by Robert Forster of the Australian band the Go-Betweens: "Never follow an artist who describes his or her work as 'dark.' "

"Any band that doesn't have a sense of humor has a little bit of a problem," says Lekman, who cites Jonathan Richman and Randy Newman as amusing songwriters he admires. "I don't like irony and sarcasm very much. But I do like it when you think someone is telling you a joke, and then you discover it's serious."


Contact Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628, deluca@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @delucadan. Read his blog, "In the Mix,"

at www.philly.com/inthemix.

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