A sixth LP which finds the underrated performer on brilliant form.
Chris Parkin 2011-10-06
For all his grubby-kneed reportage and wry, mooning confessionals about his own cult-level success, Jeffrey Lewis is a far more otherworldly songwriter than he’s given credit for. His five preceding albums brim with propulsive ear-worming narratives about bad acid trips, being tied to railway tracks and assaulted by Will Oldham, living to 128, and hearts so broken we can’t even imagine. Effortlessly brilliant lines that would tangle the larynx of mere mortals tumble from his mouth, and all in that croaky underdog patter.
Things aren’t much different here; he’s on brilliant form. In fact, Lewis’ stream of thoughts are untethered after 2009’s poppy, streamlined ‘Em Are I. He repeats a few old themes – his existence as a fringe artist is central to most things he does – but his evocative, heartfelt, pin-sharp lines hit compelling grooves, all twists and turns, grin-inducing couplets and weirdness. The album’s bonus track, Mosquito Rap, is rapid-fire chatter about mass murdering insects.
Maybe it’s Lewis’ comic book artistry and recent work for The History Channel, drawing and performing illustrated songs about such earth-juddering events as the Cuban Missile Crisis, that have ensured he’s still so lyrically fertile. The juices flow unabated on a tender Time Trades, about making your time here count; and on a woozy Krongu Green Slime, about the brand of sludge at the drawn of time from which we all grew: "Some had high-minded concepts, dreams, ideals and morals".
Musically, A Turn in the Dream-Songs takes nearly as many turns. So What If I Couldn’t Take It is a skewed Subterranean Homesick Blues, his every jam-packed line conjuring the image of a man discarding placards. There are songs that are among the strangest he’s done (When You’re By Yourself), gently psychedelic and dreamy. Then there’s the wiggy, rumbustious, punky rattle of Cult Boyfriend, a song with brilliant lines thrown away like sweet wrappers: "A cult boyfriend is like a record in a bargain bin / No-one knows how much it’s worth till a collector comes in".
Jarvis Cocker has said that Lewis is the best lyricist working in the US today. Widen the boundaries, Jarv, and you’re closer to the mark.