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Jens Lekman An Argument With Myself Review

EP. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

He knows great stories can be found in even the smallest moment.

Charles Ubaghs 2011

Try summarising Jens Lekman in Tweet form. If you’re familiar with his work then you’ll end up with something like the following: "wistful, 30-year-old Swedish indie songwriter; likes Jonathan Richman, girls, self-deprecation, heartbreak and slightly gauche pop music."

It’s a perfect storm of twee, and Lekman does little to disprove it, with a telling quote – "The way her shadow used to walk by her side, in a different time, a different city" – splayed across the cover of this new EP, An Argument With Myself.

Lekman is prone to the odd sickly gesture and, on the surface, it’s difficult to not lump him in with the legions of oft-derided bands spending their days hawking a musical stunted adolescence while mistaking nostalgia for eras never personally lived as a signifier of authenticity.

Lekman may share their emotional sensitivity, but over the years he has proven himself to be a songwriter of far greater complexity. Across two LPs and multiple EPs he’s crafted rich narratives filled with references to Spaceballs, Warren G’s Regulate and Mark E. Smith. And everything’s been soundtracked by a taste-be-damned mix of lo-fi bedroom pop, Tin Pan Alley ditties, Euro-disco cheese and whatever else suits at the time.

If you’re looking for more accurate comparisons then Richman and The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt are close musical relatives, as is a certain Pulp frontman. Imagine a bedroom-generation Jarvis Cocker weaned on turn-of-the-century pop culture, preferring to apply his wry wit and observational skills to his interior world instead of the outside world, and you’ll end up with a figure bearing a striking resemblance to Lekman.

It’s little wonder the main character in Lekman’s work is almost always himself. Live that long in your interior world and it becomes almost impossible to rationalise the exterior without self-reference. An Argument…’s standout track, Waiting for Kirsten, finds Lekman attempting to track down Kirsten Dunst after discovering the actress is in his hometown of Gothenburg filming a movie, and has mentioned him while giving an interview to the local paper. Lekman fails to find her and the bulk of the song’s drama instead revolves around his emotional turmoil and his difficult relationship with his hometown. For Lekman it’s all about Lekman, and he hits the ultimate pinnacle of self-reference on the EP’s title-track by depicting himself having an argument with… himself.

This may read like a serious case of narcissism. In part, it is. But by filling every inch of An Argument With Myself with his trademark wit, humour and a large dose of self-deprecation, Lekman also continues to show there are no bit parts. He knows great stories can be found in even the smallest moment, and that is something worth cherishing.

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