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September 27, 2012

Do you like this?

Jens Lekman

I Know What Love Isn’t

(Secretly Canadian)

When i read that Swedish crooner Jens Lekman’s new album, I Know What Love Isn’t, was the result of his real-life break-up, I cringed. Mind you, this is the fellow who created my favorite album of 2007, Night Falls over Kortedala, a rich and unique pop album with a quirky conception of romance, so expectations were high. Lekman’s latest—his third proper album—isn’t the all-out mope-fest that it could have been, but it takes some time for it to really become engaging. The arrangements are pleasing yet a bit bland for the first few songs (think “indie adult contemporary” with piano and sax accents), covering well-worn lyrical themes. On those tracks, Lekman’s baritone voice doesn’t sound like its usual self, but in a subtle way; it’s not oppressively melancholic, but it doesn’t seem expressive as before.

Eventually, the album rights itself, starting with its first glimmer on “She Just Don’t Want to Be with You Anymore,” with sonic qualities that distinguish itself from the opening tracks, with a water-drop sound and drum machine forming a backbone and echoing piano notes. Finally, a mood change can be heard in Lekman’s voice on “The World Moves On,” carrying a kinetic spirit with tight electric guitar strums, string flourishes, and conga beats; here, Lekman puts his dissolution in perspective, acknowledging potential lukewarm indifference toward his breakup, singing “The world just shrugs its shoulders and keeps going.”

His off-kilter lyrical style hits its stride as the album turns optimistic, with charismatic melodies to match, on numbers like “The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love.” Toward the album’s end, post-breakup, Lekman’s seemingly offhanded marriage proposal to another woman is met with laughter, but Lekman explains that the marriage is only for citizenship; he then sings, “I’ve always liked the idea of it: a relationship that doesn’t lie about its intentions and shit.” Although it takes too long to warm up, I Know What Love Isn’t works out in the end; what could have been a self-absorbed, insufferable indulgence shows honest glimpses of a charming humility.

Pierre-Antoine Badaroux

Composition No. 6

(Umlaut)

“Experimental music” is the typical catch-all term for anything that wouldn’t likely be heard on a mainstream radio station, but another definition of experimental music likens it to a scientific experiment, where a scientist sets the parameters of an experiment and records the outcome; she may have a hypothesis regarding the result, but it’s not certain.  Paris-based alto saxophonist and composer Pierre-Antoine Badaroux’s debut album, Composition No. 6, consists of a set of pieces notated in code, which is then deciphered by the performers, resulting in indeterminate outcomes and infinite possibilities for these sound experiments.

This approach has roots within ‘60s free jazz and also structured improv methods (such as John Zorn’s game pieces), and one thing to remember regarding such music that is often understated is that the musician selection is key.  One can see the intrinsic artistic value of a piece from, say, Bach; however, in the realm of “instant orchestration,” the framework can lead the players to interesting results, but it’s ultimately dependent on their own styles and methods.  Badaroux assembled a like-minded sextet of fellow Umlaut Records artists (including his bandmates drummer Antonin Gerbal and bassist Joel Grip in the Charlie Parker-via-Anthony Braxton influenced Peeping Tom), each with a flexible, restless spirit and spry enthusiasm that’s difficult to fake.

The album documents a live recording of a Paris performance from this year, and while the uninitiated may find it maddening, hardy listeners will be impressed by its fervor and intrigued by the ideas at play.  Possibly the most distinguishing thread heard throughout the album is the asymmetry, particularly between Badaroux’s sax and Pierre Borel’s clarinet; it’s one thing to play tight passages in unison, but what’s heard here is a curious time-delayed separation between the two reedists’ notes, intentionally making it difficult for the listener to focus on one particular line.  With a vibrant racket, including violent double-bass pizzicato notes, rapid piano glissandos and popcorn flurries, and even a few vocal outbursts, it’s like a rowdy orchestra without a conductor, with Badaroux’s composition itself serving as the ringleader.

by

September 27, 2012

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