Given the relative influx of stylishly innovative artists roaring out of Scandinavia in recent years, it’s easy to forget that, not too long ago, places like Sweden were fairly obscure locales on the pop music landscape. Jens Lekman is the latest and (with the exception of Sondre Lerche) possibly greatest Scandinavian export, a modest commercial success in his homeland and a genuinely compelling artist, as evinced on this pair of stellar EPs.
Perched at the center of an unbelievably lush swirl of strings and background cooing, Lekman comes very close to evoking the early solo work of John Cale on the Maple Leaves EP, his somewhat detached vocals an odd pairing for jingling sleigh bells and xylophone. But, like Cale, Lekman appears similarly comfortable with the naked vulnerability of tracks like the fragile solo-piano reading of “Sky Phenomenon.” Of course, the template for this kind of baroque pop was already laid down some 35 years ago by Michael Brown and the Left Banke. In fact, the foundational hook of that band’s classic “Something On My Mind” is borrowed perfectly (and blatantly) for the melodic phrase carried by the gorgeous “Black Cab”’s harpsichord.
The Rocky Dennis EP takes a half-turn toward the coy, pop-culture-referencing Belle & Sebastian, with no less than three of its tracks alluding to the Mask star to some degree. But the songs benefit from slightly brighter production here—with the piano and finger snaps of the self-referential “Jens Lekman’s Farewell Song to Rocky Dennis” and the Burt Bacharach nod and wedding-singer narrative of “If You Ever Need a Stranger”—and they’re glistening with pristine crispness. Lekman may not be the most recognizable face from his homeland, but with his full-length debut slated for release before the end of the year, he just may end up its most prolific.