With Jens Lekman singing morose lines like, “I will never kiss anyone / who doesn’t burn me like the sun,” you might think he’s a humorless, self-mutilating drama queen. But that’s not exactly what this Swedish singer/songwriter is going for. "I felt like when I started writing songs," explains Lekman, "and I tried to be funny, people started crying. And when I tried to be serious, people just laughed. I felt like I was comically retarded or something."
Song titles like “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You” and “If I Could Cry (It Would Feel Like This)” make Lekman seem like an alumnus of Morrissey’s School of Morbidity in Song. And yet, in “A Postcard to Nina,” Lekman hilariously details an awkward dinner with a lesbian friend and her father, during which Lekman plays the part of her boyfriend.
Much more than mere tragicomedy, Lekman’s gorgeous new album, Night Falls Over Kortedala, is sheer brilliance—easily one of the year’s finest. Throughout its dozen songs—which were plucked from a pile of hundreds by Lekman’s friends—is a liberal mix of romanticism (“Your Arms Around Me”), sorrow (“I’m Leaving You...”) and touching humor (“Nina”). Lekman sings like a lounge act, and his plush musical backdrop is just a little kitschy, incorporating doo-wop harmonies, pastoral melodies and even symphonic grandeur.
Somewhere along this meticulously composed path to Kortedala, Lekman realized that the tunes and laughs were a therapy of sorts. “I used to write really shitty, gloomy songs about how everything sucked,” he says, “but I realized that everything sucked because I wrote those songs. My music controlled me much more than I controlled my music."
With things now under control and a career-defining album on record-store shelves, perhaps Lekman can focus more on the lighter aspects of life. And if he happens to prove that pop music can be funny and beautiful at the same time, so be it.
“I don’t understand why a lot of music is so entirely serious,” he says. “I always think of music as dialogue in some way. I don’t have any friends who don’t use humor every day. I kind of like having the characters [in the songs] come alive. And that dialogue really comes alive if there’s comedy in it.”