Review: Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now

Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now

Life Will See You Now may be Jens Lekman's first album in five years, but it has not been quiet on the Jens front. In 2015, he set himself the creative challenge of writing and recording a song each week of the year, embarked on a living room tour and participated in a ghostwriting project in Cincinnati and Gothenburg, sitting down to listen to the stories of strangers and turning them into songs. This kind of interaction with his listeners isn't stopping now either: the album release is accompanied by a set of Jens Will See You Now videos, in which he answers questions sent to him on a specific theme linking to the record.

The first JWSYN video tackles the topic of fear. Jens speaks in a calming tone, discussing ways to overcome fears – it's nothing as ominous as fear in 'Postcard #17', by far the least upbeat track on the album. Instead he tells of his holiday in Malaysia, being surrounded by coral reefs, but feeling terrified of breathing and being underwater. With encouragement from his girlfriend, eventually deciding it was ridiculous to not get to see the coral reef that was right there, he started training in the shallow parts of the water. Once his brain started learning, he started swimming out. He describes making it out to the coral reefs as one of the greatest rewards for overcoming a fear: ”Just to, for a moment, turn into this human spaceship, hovering in the sky over a city of beautiful sea creatures.” This is precisely what Lekman has done in his recent songwriting projects too, ghostwriting as well as the album. As an outsider looking in, he finds stories and beauty in every creature.

On Life Will See You Now, while Jens hasn't fully removed himself from his songs even though it's an idea he's been toying with, he shares little stories of different people, of seemingly insignificant moments (and one story of the history of the universe in 'How We Met, The Long Version'), short ethnographies that, in the end, make up the world we live in.

Indeed, the album starts off with existential pondering through the story of a Mormon missionary, in which Lekman declares he wants to be an ear in a world of mouths. As a teenager in the 90s, trying to figure out his own mission, ”Jens says 'I write songs sometimes, but they're kinda bad / so if that doesn't work out / I wanna be a social worker, just like my dad / I just wanna listen to people's stories, hear what they have to say.'” So in the joyous, at times even gospel-esque funk-disco, listeners are immersed into the stories of a pair of friends meeting up for a drink after one of them has had a tumour removed, a nostalgic scent reminiscent of a former lover, a secret hotwiring of a ferris wheel at night and male friends unable to express their love. Undoubtedly in response to the worries that he would not feel emotionally invested when taking himself out of his songs, Jens isn't absent: he is in a supporting role, an observant witness with a chance to share what he's seen and what's affected him.

Through describing these ordinary incidents, interactions, he ends up revealing much more about the world we live in. This comes all the while shining a general sense of being ok with the different ages and stages in life, comfortable with the changing fears that come with it. 'Wedding in Finistère' condenses this to a catchy chorus: ”Five-year-old watching the 10-year-olds shoplifting / 10-year-old watching the 15-year-olds French kissing / 15-year-old watching the 20-year-olds chain-smoking / 20-year-old watching the 30-year-olds vanishing”. Across the record, listeners are guided by similarly sincere, upbeat melodies and disco beats. This follows Lekman's 2012 LP I Know What Love Isn't, an achingly beautiful album about heartbreak and the end of love. In a way, Life Will See You Now is the opposite, showing love and caring in surprising contexts. But the same fragile honesty is still there from the danceable 'What's That Perfume That You Wear' to the delicate 'Dandelion Seed'.

Somehow Lekman avoids trading familiarity for safety: there is surprise in each song, a more explicit embrace of something different, despite still being characteristically Jens Lekman. Life Will See You Now sees sad stories turned happy, wind turned string section, ordinary turned extraordinary.