Oh You're So Silent, Jens
Though I had at the time never heard the silken dulcations of Jens Lekman, every time I saw his kind mug in an ad for Secretly Canadian in the music rags I navigate, and saw that his debut album was titled When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog, I knew I'd like him. You don't kick out a snarky Stooges reference that good and not have something of merit to you. I've still not heard a note off that well-titled album, but evidently enough people have to warrant my favorite Indianans (is that the right term?) to release this lesser-appelated but nonetheless delicious collection of his three initial EP's.
Oh Your So Silent, Jens takes its title from the finest song on the album "Black Cab" where he gets his Prufrock on with:
I ruined the party again
For all my friends
'Oh You're so silent, Jens'
Well maybe I am
with one of the finest mopey croons since there was discovered by Mancunian emotional chemists a light that never goes out. In fact for the most part, the album is constructed from piano etudes and Lekman's clever lyrics, but "Black Cab" even has that Johnny Marr jangle I miss so much in the Popular Music.
Another winner is the triad of delightful songs are about Rocky Dennis, the kid from Mask. "Farewell to Rocky Dennis" explores the theme in a trip-hop meets Nelson Riddle mode, while "Rocky Dennis in Heaven" shuffles through the autumn leaves with its mournful strings and gently plucked guitar, finally a bittersweet piano and finger snaps makes "Jens Lekman's Farewell Song to Rocky Dennis" the hippest song that might just make you cry at that vulnerable moment.
Every song on this collection has that same perfect amount of meat on the skeleton keeping these from being heavy-handed piano ballads ala Tori Amos or snooty like Magnetic Fields can sometimes be (though Stephen Merritt is an analogous singer and songwriter) "A Man walk into a Bar" is a mournful surreal clever guitar ballad that even contains a little whistling and this great line
A man walks into a bar
Orders a beer and bowl of peanuts
But the bar turns into a spaceship
And the bartender gives him a haircut
I can't remember the end of that joke
I love stuff like this. It reminds me of my favorite song by Silver Jews (another similar performer) where he says "A robot walks into a bar. The bartender says 'Hey we don't serve robots.' 'Oh, but one day you will.'" A mutated joke is a beautiful thing. This song ends with a harmonica and ukulele duet, evidently proving that Santa got my letter as to what I want in a ballad. Closing out the album is the second rendition of "Maple Leaves" which sounds like it was contributed by The Lettermen to that time capsule Nixon put on the moon. Or something like that. Jens's songs have such potent strains of sadness and hope running through it that you want to throw your hat in the air like Mary Tyler Moore during the chorus. Is that too gay a reference? Maybe. I tried to turn my wife, a hardline Tom Petty listener who was successfully entranced by Sufjan Stevens, onto this record but I think it might have been a little too musical-number for her. Her loss, I say. Its a brilliant glowing ember of a record, and next chance I get, I'm going to find out for myself what Mr. Lekman meant when he said he wanted to be my dog.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com