Oh You’re So Silent Jens
As much as it pains me to say it, I’ve been generally disappointed with Belle & Sebastian’s rainbow-hued output post-millennial change. Even the band’s operating procedures seem to be becoming more label driven. Case in point, their recent singles compilation disc, Push Barman to Open Old Wounds, which collects all of their previous stand-alone EPs onto one digestible unit. Sure, it’s fine for new fans, but with the plethora of hard-to-find tracks in marginalized form on file-sharing sites it would’ve been nice for the band to throw us hardcore fans a bone or two.
Enter Jens Lekman. The dour Swedish troubadour appeals to the same rainy day melancholia that ran rampant in B&S’s late-’90s wobbly orchestral grandeur. Oh You’re So Silent Jens is Lekman’s collected EP output, with a handful of superb songs yet to see the North American light of day. The disc is roughly tracked in the order the songs were originally written, and it’s fun to listen to Lekman grow from sampling his pop roots — The Television Personalities on “Maple Leaves,” Arab Strap on “F-Word” and even B&S on “Black Cab” — to penning full-fledged moments of perfection by himself. There’s little need for me to restate my love for the previously released material; it’s unabashed gushing and easily viewed through this site’s search engine. It’s the bonus material that warrants attention, most notably the jaw-dropping allegory on “Dept. of Forgotten Songs” and the aforementioned and hilariously morose “F-Word.” Lekman’s power as a songwriter and arranger is brought to the forefront with the juxtaposition created by “A Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill” and “Another Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill.” The former is a breezy, minimalist pop number as infectious as the giddy crowd chorus vocals imply, while the latter is a nearly a cappella version set against a bed or chirping crickets and a much darker lyrical muse. On “Another…” he quietly sings that “it’s hard to be sad, when there’s so much beauty.” That lyric completely encapsulates the struggle of Lekman’s music — and Belle & Sebastian’s dusty catalog, for that matter. While those Scots seem to have forgotten what it’s like to be sad, Lekman keeping that icy torch burning brightly and we all should thank him for that.
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