This is a sadness-powered record, guys
by Aidan Morgan
I Know What Love Isn’t
Everyone keeps friends around who refuse to learn from their mistakes: the ones who wander back to the casino every Friday night, or pick fights they have no hope of winning, or insist on dating attractive but utterly unsuitable people.
Such is the friendship I picture myself having with Jens Lekman. He keeps bashing his head into walls and then writes songs about headaches.
On I Know What Love Isn’t’s second track, “Erica America”, Lekman bemoans the events that brought him to a state of heartbreak: “Erica America/ I wish I’d never met you/ Like I wish I’d never tasted wine/ Or tasted it from lips that weren’t mine.”
In the tortured world of Jens Lekman’s imagination, love is a guarantee of misery — a beautiful animal that will eventually turn on you. And bite you. Forever.
More focused and not nearly as goofy as 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortadela, Lekman’s latest record attempts to grapple with the emotional fallout of broken relationships and other sundries of sadness. Moments of hard-won wisdom break through the break-ups in tracks like “The World Moves On” (“You don’t get over a broken heart/ You just learn to carry it gracefully”), and Lekman can still pull off some arresting and absurd images at just the right moment.
Lekman’s sound hasn’t changed much over the last five years: lots of bossa nova rhythms, flute riffs and even a solo from a nasal soprano saxophone. His music feels like a retreat into a hazy late-’60s era, when Sinatra and Joao could hang out on stage and jam to the mellowest groove in creation.
And in case you’re wondering, Lekman still can’t sing a note. But after a few tracks, you won’t care.
Polyvinyl Record Co.
Why do we dance the Robot?
The 1984 motion picture Footloose, starring Kevin Bacon, tells us dancing is a “way of celebrating life.” But here we are — post-ironic aging hipsters — dancing the Robot, imitating non-life, imitating pre-programmed responses to anticipated stimuli. We dance the Robot because we yearn to celebrate life, as Bacon’s Ren McCormack wants us to, but we are afraid. We are afraid of our bodies. We are afraid of the unpredictable ways our bodies will move and the sadly predictable ways our bodies will appear to others.
We dance the Robot because it is safe. It’s a safety dance. Because it is ridiculous, dancing the Robot inoculates us against ridicule. But, as Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki tells us on “Fete D’Adieu”, the best and final track on Deerhoof’s pretty good new LP full of brokedown cyborg Bossa Nova, even the toughest robot on the dance floor has “a muscle in the heart.”
In dancing, even as robots, we become human. /Emmet Matheson
“Live in the moment/Never count on longevity,” warns Yeasayer frontman Chris Keating on “Longevity”, an R&B-tinged single from his Brooklyn band’s third studio album. Though he probably has a different subject in mind, the phrase also sums up the group’s approach to making music: forget the past, have fun screwing around with whatever intrigues you at the time, and to hell with the consequences. It worked brilliantly on the trio’s 2010 album Odd Blood, where they played around with strange electronic sounds and indulged their love of big, glossy choruses, resulting in some incredible dance songs. (Look up “O.N.E.” on YouTube and I guarantee you’ll be bouncing around your living room like a freak.) Unfortunately, they’re now into writing turgid tunes that elevate flashy production techniques over melody — and with the exception of two or three tracks (e.g. “Henrietta”, “Reagan’s Skeleton”), it’s a slog to listen to. Forty-nine minutes is not an especially long running time for an album, but it can feel endless when you’re buried under layers of synths and heavily processed vocals, with no hooks to orient you in the music. /Gillian Mahoney
The Helio Sequence
Negotiations , the fifth LP from Portland duo The Helio Sequence, sees them aging gracefully. It’s the logical progression for a band that’s always appeared textbook perfect on paper. They’ve signed to Sub Pop, shared a drummer with Modest Mouse, churned out album after album without any creative missteps — and yet, a decade and a half into their career they still exist in relative obscurity.
Their signature affected guitars and atmospheric synths are still around on Negotiations, but the harmonica and danceable beats of 2008’s Keep Your Eyes Ahead have been abandoned for more assertive vocals and sparing drums with subtler complexities. Standout tracks “October” and “Downward Spiral” sound like the wise older cousin of contemporaries like Local Natives. The album’s only weakness comes in the brief moments that this maturity begins to teeter on easy listening. “The Measure”, for example, could be mistaken for an early era Coldplay B-side, before Chris Martin and company started dressing like superheroes and molding their sound after the Gladiator soundtrack. /Michael Dawson