'Life Will See You Now' is mature, wryly funny riff on adulthood

Jens Lekman’s latest album takes on his thirties while maintaining uncanny charm

aejenslekmancourtesyjenslekman

Jens Lenkman's "Life Will See You Now" beautifully explores the concept of aging.

Courtesy Jens Lekman

It’s hard to imagine anyone pulling off a catchy, funk-tinged pop song about a 3D-printed tumor. But that’s exactly what Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman does on “Evening Prayer,” a grooving, doo-dee-doo-laden number featuring countrywoman Loulou Lamotte that describes his attempts to reconnect with a friend recovering from cancer.

This singular balance between jaunty arrangements and disquieting lyrics characterizes much of Lekman’s wondrous new album, “Life Will See You Now” — which lays bare the latent anxieties of aging, only to spin them into something beautiful.

“Life” features a motley crew of characters, such as the Mormon missionary that a teenage Lekman encounters on the kaleidoscopic opener “To Know Your Mission.” This song wrestles with existential questions like, “what's our mission? / what are we here for? / who are we serving? / what can we do?” Over a decade later, Lekman still seems to be in search of the answer.

The orchestral, swooning “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel,” featuring English singer Tracey Thorn, portrays the titular crime as an act of thrill-seeking while remaining reflective. Lekman details the heist with a self-aware sense of narrative, singing, “I say, ‘Okay, if I'm gonna write a song about this I promise I won't make it a sad song’ / You'll go like this: woo!”

Lekman also doesn’t shy away from brutally honest examinations of personal relationships. The buoyant tropical beat of “What’s That Perfume You Wear?” seems incongruous with its melancholy lyrics that find him admitting, “And I guess I still love her / But she's gone forever / And however hard that might feel / At least it was real.” Despite the sorrow, there’s something liberating — almost celebratory — about hearing that confession set to a relentlessly bouncy rhythm — it reminds listeners that this vulnerability is natural.

Likewise, “How Can I Tell Him” frankly illustrates how the expectations of masculinity limit his own expressions of affection. It ends as Lekman describes what’s left unsaid when he bids farewell to his best friend — “Before he's gone he shouts, ‘Later, dude’ / I think, ‘Yeah / I love you too.’"

When it comes to romance, Lekman is both witty and unfailingly earnest. His storytelling style recalls Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields, especially in the gentle “Our First Fight,” which depicts the arc of a minor lovers’ quarrel. It resolves itself at the song’s close — as Lekman is happily reassured of his partner’s devotion — “And you mouth out ‘I love you’ / the way a parent spells out ice cream: / ‘I-L-O-V-E-Y-O-U,’ like there's kids in the room, woo hoo.” While Lekman is keen to dramatize everyday manifestations of love like this one, he’s also unafraid to play with the kind of abstract metaphors that come off as schmaltzy to a less-committed artist.

The delightful “How We Met, The Long Version” is refreshingly free of cynicism — it pulls out all the stops with ABBA-esque, disco-inspired instrumentation. Additionally, it renders a couple’s origin story cosmic, starting with the very moment “subatomic particles became atoms, became stars, became galaxies.”

Arguably, the album’s most relatable track is the infectious “Wedding in Finistère,” which finds Lekman observing how the anticipation of a wedding inevitably brings to mind the doubts that come with getting older. When asked how she feels, the bride briskly answers “like a 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.” It’s a bittersweet reminder of how maturity doesn’t necessarily guarantee the feeling of belonging — rather, it sometimes makes us even more unsatisfied with ourselves.

“Oh, please distract me / from every life unlived,” Lekman croons during the lovely bridge of “Wedding." Much like this album as a whole, the request seems a little heartbreaking — but it also leaves room for hope.

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