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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

I love you Jens Lekman

Swedish indie pop icon performs in Boston

Published: April 11, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

There comes a point in every music writer’s career when he is tempted to throw journalistic integrity out the window and exclaim to the world, “I AM IN LOVE WITH YOU, JENS LEKMAN!” Though this might seem a slight exaggeration, the audience last Friday night at the Paradise Rock Club was wildly enthusiastic enough to convince me that this was a universal experience.

For those of you that haven’t yet been smitten, Jens Lekman is a Swedish indie pop icon who has made significant inroads into the American alternative music scene. Even after receiving rave reviews from the likes of Spin and Pitchfork, however, it seems that there remains a gap between his critical acclaim and commercial popularity (the New York Times acknowledged as much in a recent concert review).

Nevertheless, no one in attendance at Friday night’s concert would deny that Lekman is one of the foremost figures in pop music today. While recent indie pop stars like the Shins and I’m From Barcelona ape Brian Wilson’s aesthetic style, Lekman tackles the more ambitious task of sounding like Burt Bacharach without devolving into pure retro or kitsch. This was evidenced by masterful arrangements that featured violin and cello in addition to electronic samples.

He opened the set with “I Am Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You,” a gem of a tune from his newest release, Night Falls Over Kortedala. The song is built on a keyboard sample that sounds like it could have come from Laura Nyro and piles on six electronic hip-hop beats to support a saccharine melody and wry lyrics. Another highlight, “The Opposite of Hallelujah,” soon followed, its whimsical violin riff and a sprightly drumbeat getting the crowd bouncing.

Lekman’s affable stage presence was on full display for “A Postcard to Nina,” a soul-inflected number that tells the hilarious story best summarized by the lines, “Nina, I can’t be your boyfriend/So you can stay with your girlfriend.” He talked through the story in between the verses, adding droll details about train fares and German vegetarian food. The high point of the night for me, however, came with “Sipping on the Sweet Nectar,” an ebullient Europop number with a danceable beat and well-placed orchestral loops.

Throughout the night, Lekman alternated between elegantly crafted chamber pop and folksy acoustic numbers. On “Shirin,” for example, Lekman opted for a solo acoustic rendition that showcased his shimmering falsetto and songwriting chops. Although his albums have seen his evolution from an acoustic troubadour to an omnivorous pop singer, this concert showcased his ability to meld the two personas, offering a performance that felt both intimate and improbably expansive.

The most remarkable aspect of Lekman’s genius is his ability to write songs that fuse diverting everyday experiences with sincere emotionality. For example, “Shirin” describes the transcendent experience that the singer derived from getting his hair cut by a mysterious Iraqi woman. By combining Stephen Merritt’s deadpan delivery with Morrissey’s overblown romantic proclamations, Lekman creates a style all his own.

After the performance I had the privilege of chatting with the enigmatic artist. In response to my inquiry about how he felt about playing in Boston (it was his second time in a span of only six months), he proved that the tender, boyish persona he exudes onstage is only one aspect of his personality. “I used to have a kind of flirtation with Boston,” he admits. “But people didn’t like when I played Jonathan Richman covers. So f—k you, Boston!”