JENS LEKMAN has never been accused of feeling too little. He's a songwriter full of effervescent melodies, clever wordplay, and a self-effacing case of heart-on-sleeve. But before now, the Swede always seemed like the breaker-upper in love's fallout. With his new album I Know What Love Isn't, Lekman is showing the telltale signs of a broken heart.
It's been five years since Lekman's Night Falls over Kortedala, a grandiose album of horns and Brill Building brilliance. During that stretch, Lekman released an EP, but recording a full-length proved difficult. "I struggled mostly with the dramaturgy of it. I realized that some songs didn't belong, and that's when I finished the EP An Argument with Myself. As soon as I got rid of those, I saw which direction I was going," Lekman says via phone from Gothenburg, Sweden.
Indeed, I Know What Love Isn't is focused, with fewer flourishes than Lekman's back catalog. But its relative simplicity belies the mess of a breakup. "The World Moves On" finds Lekman wandering through Melbourne, feeding possums in a park: "It's the story of no story," he says. "I think it's about the aimlessness that follows a breakup... You go to the park and you ride your bike and everything is normal... you don't understand why the stars aren't falling from the sky. You think the world should stop and grieve with you."
While the new album is subtle, it has some of Lekman's finest songs to date, like the melodious and shambolic "The World Moves On" and "The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love." But album highlight "Become Someone Else's"—with the line "sleeping on my arm/until it becomes someone else's"—truly resonates, and reveals facets like a dusty ring. In that one brief lyric, there's Jens sleeping on his arm until it, too, falls asleep and no longer feels like his own, or maybe he's letting his current fling sleep there until he moves on, or perhaps he's using his arm as a pillow until he finds someone to love, and then it becomes hers. Even pared down, the man knows how to pack a magnificent symphonic wallop.