Life Will See You Now by Jens Lekman

My introduction to Jens Lekman came with the first single to this very album – What’s That Perfume That You Wear? – a discovery that instantly made me regret not finding his music earlier. The catchy, upbeat track with vibrant production masked a wistful recollection of a lover past. The remainder of Life Will See You Now adopts a similar formula, with production that is guaranteed to  (at the very least) get you moving in your seat, contrasted with lyrics that contemplate losing one’s people in shades of melancholy, hope and nostalgia.

 

The uniqueness of Jens’ songwriting lies in his ability to wring humour out of often sad situations and instances – Evening Prayer, for example, begins with an anecdote about a 3D printed model of a cancer tumour (you can’t make this up) and evolves into a rumination on emotional intimacy.  Wedding in Finistère is bittersweet, painting a (very possibly real) scene of a bride unsure of her future, and the uncertain territory of marriage, juxtapositioned with an instrumental that would sound right at home at a beach wedding’s dance. Album closer, Dandelion Seed, is possibly the most heartfelt and downtempo song here, contemplating the pace of Jens’ life, paralleling an actual journey.

Jens Lekman perfectly encapsulates the saying, “brevity is the soul of wit,” his music offering meditations on life that are assured to bring a half-smile to your face, while taking you to times and places in your memories, all while setting a summery groove to the words. Life Will See You Now is sure to be a 2017 favourite.

 

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Life Will See You Now by Jens Lekman

Five Songs For the Weekend

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

1. Believer by Imagine Dragons

 

 

An anthemic earworm of a hook, rousing electro-rock production, and lead vocalist Dan Reynolds’ powerful vocals – Believer has all the ingredients of an Imagine Dragons hit. There’s an interesting bit of hip-hop influence here, with Dan adopting a rap-like flow over marching drums reminiscent of the ones on Kanye’s Black Skinhead; after a mediocre sophomore album, this is almost enough to make one a believer in Imagine Dragons again. 

#2. BagBak by Vince Staples

Vince Staples is undeniably one of the best, and smartest, rappers of this generation, and BagBak continues his streak of fiercely unapologetic sociopolitical rap, standing up for people of colour and sticking it to the Man over booming production bubbling with aggression – proclaiming quite succinctly “Tell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the government to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the president to suck a dick, because we on now.”

#3. Comb My Hair by Coast Modern

The aptly-named Coast Modern is a wonderful new band that’s been putting out consistently great, summery tunes reminiscent of the beach rock of Wavves, and Comb My Hair is their latest. There’s a hint of psychedelia, and the drawling vocals deliver the decidedly weird lyrics in an oddly endearing manner. Quite the trip.

#4. (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano by Sampha

This gorgeous track from Sampha’s long-awaited debut album is a testament to the intense emotions the incredibly talented musican can evoke – accompanied almost entirely by the titular piano, Sampha reminisces on times gone by, using the full breadth of his stunning – yet somehow delicate – voice. It’s nearly impossible to listen to this without a lump in your throat.

#5. Random Haiku Generator by Sin Fang, Sóley & Örvar Smárason

The video description for this beauty perhaps describes this song better than we could: it’s a “confusing commentary on modern life” that is “one part electronic power ballad, one part delusional fantasy.” It’s just as wonderfully weird as it sounds, and thanks to musicians like Örvar Smárason (from múm) who are adept at making the weird sound serene, this track is bound to be on the soundtrack to your ruminative evenings. 

Five Songs For the Weekend

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #10 to #6

#10. When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired by Mothers

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Rare is the album that leaves you slack-jawed, stunned from the very first beginning, the music possessing the sort of beauty that entrances you like a pristine pool of water. Each auditory component plays impeccably, the plucked strings of the guitar singing its own melancholy song, the violin stirring parts of your being you never knew music could, the restrained percussion uplifting the other parts of the music, but never overwhelming it. And then there’s lead vocalist Kristine Leschper’s hauntingly ethereal singing, each note striking you with incredible clarity, her earnest pleas and ruminations ringing true in every syllable.  Each song is a long, slow trek through the depths of emotion, with each section occupying its own niche, interplaying, but never overruling each other. When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired is a debut unlike any other in recent times. It’s confident in its musicality, gorgeous in its instrumentation, and yet vulnerable in its humanity. This is more than an album; it’s a testament to the sheer might of beautifully constructed music.

Listen to: Too Small for Eyes, Nesting Behaviour 

#9. Black America Again by Common

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Common has been at the forefront of ‘conscious’ hip-hop for a long time now – from the classic that was Resurrection, Com has tackled issues relevant to the struggles of the common man, with razor-sharp lyrical analyses of race, money, faith and love. Black America Again, then, is a culmination of Common’s position as an activist Black rapper in the sociopolitical climate of present-day America. Over the years, he’s also matured as a rapper, bringing more nuance to his lyrics, as well as at crafting a focused album – this shows most prominently on this album. Each track is an incisive examination of a facet of race and humanity with the wisdom of a rap elder, while existing within the larger context of the album. There is a warmth to Com’s observations, reassuring his people of their power, and driving them to fight the forces trying to keep them down. The production reflects this sagacity – it’s contemporary and confident, while reminding the listener of their roots. This is a celebration of Black America in a musical era that is countering the miasma of the world around them, delivered by one of the most compelling voices in hip-hop.

Listen to: Home, The Day Women Took Over

#8. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

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The Life of Pablo is the rawest manifestation of Kanye’s abstraction. It is his worst, and his best, grating each other and swirling in terrible splendour in turns. This projects cements the man’s status as the most fascinating musician alive; the opposite of manufactured marketing, and an almost solitary spark of exciting conversation in music. It brings together every such part of Kanye, and presents it to the listener with no pretense. Ye is music’s foremost purveyor of disarming honesty. He openly shares his failings, his boasts an enforced foil to his grapplings with the self.

The soundscape on TLOP is the beauty in the insanity here; it brims with the diversity and magnificence Kanye perfected on MBDTF. In its intricacies, TLOP balances aggression with harmony; tempers stadium sounds with gorgeous melodies. Much like the man himself, the music is restless and dynamic, pausing only to reveal the scale of Ye’s vision in a few stunning minutes. As a wholem The Life of Pablo is unadulterated auditory insanity. It’s Kanye off his Lexapro, yet still somehow in control. This might not be his ‘best’ album, but it’s just as crucial to his mythology as his other work.

Listen to: Ultralight Beam, Real Friends

#7. You Want it Darker by Leonard Cohen

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It’s impossible to place You Want it Darker outside the context of the legend’s death; the half-smiling acceptance of his mortality is evident throughout the album, a fact that he’s acknowledged and accepted as being true of his songwriting. He has no qualms deconstructing man’s end, tinged with his wry wit, yet it is not without sadness. His voice is reflective of this mood – his full timbre deadpanning his thoughts, introspective lyricism grappling with universal questions of life, love and death. The somber production – dramatic organs and keys, menacing strings, haunting orchestral voices and subdued percussion –  rests in the background, setting the atmosphere appropriately dark.

As a whole, You Want it Darker is an ode to the crescendo of an incredible man’s life; it’s impeccably crafted, but his time in this world weighs heavily on its heart. It’s a gospel-like final presentation of a man who’s spent his life grappling with the questions contained within, with answers that serve as a bittersweet Hallelujah to the great equalizer. And we are all better for the poetry he’s give us.

Listen to: You Want It Darker, If I Didn’t Have Your Love 

 #6. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

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In a rather dark year, some records sought to act as a source of thoughtful joy, a defiant proclamation of optimism – Coloring Book was, perhaps, the brightest of such lights. Chance is at a peak, both in his personal and professional life. He’s become a family man with the birth of his daughter, is a critically lauded musician with a dedicated, involved fanbase, and he’s derived clear contentment from his faith. And that theme of spirituality, buoyed by humane joys, forms the heart and soul of this album. This is quite possibly the most gospel album a hip-hop artist – including Kanye – has ever made. Besides the explicit references to God and the divine, there is a reaffirmation of themes beyond the typical materialism of rap; family, friendship, and the power of music itself. Chance’s malleable vocals are often jubilant, and hopeful even when nostalgic. The production – mostly courtesy of The Social Experiment –  is chock-full of live instrumentation and choir vocals, uplifting and stirring. In drawing from his inspiring happiness, Chano has passed on that optimism to his listeners, in music that impresses on you the divinity in humanity. And in a year such as this one, that felt incredibly important.

Listen to: All We Got, Angels

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #10 to #6

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #6 to #4

#6. GO:OD AM – Mac Miller

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Mac Miller has had a roller coaster of a musical career, in a very short span of time. From the eager, frat boy rapper from KIDS and Blue Slide Park, to the drug-addled, contemplative Mac of Watching Movies With The Sound Off and Faces, Mac Miller has finally reached a point in his music where he can look to the highs, rather than rely on them. The production is inspired, and his rhymes lithe. There’s a cohesive sound that, at times, reminds me of Low End Theory era ATCQ. Noticeably, the album sounds less cluttered – despite the long running time – much like the mind behind the music, with a focus on keeping the message in focus. Mac is continuing to learn from his past, and he walks the listener through each step of the way. He’s making the music he’s always wanted to, starting with a fresh slate; Mac has finally woken up to a good morning.

Listen to: 100 Grandkids, Weekend, In The Bag, Perfect Circle/God Speed

#5. Positive Songs For Negative People – Frank Turner

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Frank Turner has always been a personal favourite because I’ve always found a song of his that I could relate to at any given moment.  In that vein, the minute I read this album’s title I knew what it would mean to me. The first time I listened to this album was during a particularly difficult period, and this LP was that spark of optimism I so desperately needed. The songs here are hopeful, but without any sugarcoating. Frank acknowledges his struggles, using them as the backdrop to his hopes for the present and the future. He is the everyman’s musician, with few grandiose ambitions, motivated only by love, for people and music. Driven by his energetic vocals and production, Frank ensures that his every word connects with the listener with a visceral force that a gifted few other artists can accomplish. On behalf of negative people everywhere: thank you.

Listen To: The Next Storm, Glorious You, Out of Breath, Song for Josh

#4. Wilder Mind – Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons are increasingly becoming a polarising figure in music. Despite their massive popularity, they’ve also got equally fierce critics. This debate saw its peak with the release of this album; many fans were disappointed by the complete shift in instrumentation, and angered by the abandonment of the signature folk/bluegrass sound for what was seen as a generic pop-rock band. But an honest, unbiased listen to Wilder Mind will show you that this is still Mumford in its soul. In fact, in quite a few ways, I saw this project as a marked improvement over Babel, particularly in the lyrics and repetition of sound. Marcus’ vocals are at their best here: gut-wrenching, soulful and passionate, often all at once. The acoustic sounds may have been replaced by an electric palate, but the dynamics of the soundscape is still very much Mumford; incredibly emotive at its quietest, and soaring at its loudest. Wilder Mind will unapologetically pull at every last one of your heartstrings. It is an ode to pain and loss, but most importantly, to that all-encompassing enigma, love. And I couldn’t ask for a more compelling tribute to what I believe to be the most powerful sentiment we possess.

Listen to: The Wolf, Wilder Mind, Snake Eyes, Hot Gates

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #6 to #4

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #10 to #7

#10. Ones and Sixes– Low

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My favourite albums go beyond being merely a pleasant listen. They make me evaluate and re-evaluate my preconceptions and my emotional stature; these albums are the ones that justify my spiritual connect to music. Ones and Sixes was the first such album for me in 2015. The project as a whole is glacial and epic, imbibing a sense of  sweeping melancholia and despair, albeit tinged with glimmers of hope. The production is minimal and never overwhelms, but there is a mass and power to it upon which the haunting, blending vocals waft to stunning highs. For me, this album was one of the most emotional listens of the year, and I am indebted to Low for this musical experience.

Listen to: Gentle, Spanish Translation, What Part of Me

#9. Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

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In my opinion, Sufjan Stevens is one of the best songwriters of this generation. His words are intensely personal, yet universal in their relevance. Carrie & Lowell is an autobiographical project detailing Sufjan’s strained relationship with his mother, Carrie and the bright spot that was his stepfather Lowell. The stripped down atmosphere here is insular; the light strings and keys firmly in the background to Sufjan’s vocal presence. Themes of burdensome pain, sadness, loss and death permeate this album; it’s far from an uplifting piece of music. It’s catharsis; therapeutic art for Sufjan, that the listener has been allowed to share in. In its own dark way, Carrie & Lowell is a testing foil to life.

Listen to: Death With Dignity, The Only Thing, Carrie & Lowell

#8. Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples

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Vince Staples’ USP as a rapper is straightforward: he will never bullshit you. The Long Beach native refuses to glamourize the harsh, hard life he’s known growing up amongst broken homes, gangs, drugs and stifling poverty. The stories he weaves are intricate, incisive, and almost depressively real, and they leave you hanging on every word.  Vince’s voice is unflinching, detailing his teenage life with a disconcerting detachment, which lends credence to the idea that while that life is very much a part of him, he wants no part of it. Aided by dark, foreboding production, Vince on Summertime ’06  is the sound of the streets; blood-stained, gravelly and cold.

Listen to:  Lift Me Up, Jump Off The Roof, SummertimeSurf

#7. Currents – Tame Impala

Currents is that obligatory entry in nearly every musician’s discography: the breakup album; albeit so much more nuanced than your average Taylor Swift album. Running the gamut of emotions from conflict to yearning to acceptance, this album is frontman Kevin Parker’s declaration that he’s a “brand new person” who will deal with love and loss on his own terms. In many ways, this path is reflected in the production. And the production, handled by Kevin himself, is nothing short of a revelation. There is no sound quite like this. Expansive, emotive and mesmerizing, this is psychedelia at its absolute best. Electronics buzz around, eclectic sonic textures cohere into sounds that invoke the perfect reaction at the perfect moment, while Kevin’s surreal vocals alternatively soar and coalesce into the bed of music he lays so well. Tame Impala’s current is unlike any other, and every listener is privileged to be astride for the voyage.

Listen to: Let It Happen, The Less I Know The Better, ‘Cause I’m A Man, New Person,Same Old Mistakes

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #10 to #7