Editing a Moment in Time
Sondre Lerche’s an interesting creature. The 28-year-old Norwegian’s been putting out records for about 10 years, none of them very much alike. Some would argue his slightly off-key vocals will forever prevent him from being a really big deal, but with the right sonic textures enveloping his unique voice, it really hits the spot. After a tour supporting Elvis Costello, for instance, Lerche and his band churned out the rocking Phantom Punch (2007). With Duper Sessions in 2006, his drone was molded to accompany tropicalia and bossa nova with style and panache. Now, on his sixth LP, he’s recruited talented backers and seems to be attempting a moment-in-time declaration: this is what I really do.
The arrangements on this self-titled album are for the most part simple. Lerche oscillates between delicate accompaniment and slamming on his acoustic guitar. Midlake percussionist McKenzie Smith and longtime collaborator and producer Kato Adland greatly enrich the record. The opener, “Ricochet,” is a standout and hearkens back to Harry Nilsson’s days, when a distinct vocal and classy production was all you needed for critical acclaim. It builds dramatically and gently to incorporate layered, processed vocals, off-key string crescendos, and bold but simple drumming.
The second track, “Private Caller,” may be the album’s strongest. It’s a bouncy, rhythmic, vaguely pop tune that veers off halfway through into a ghostly rock vibe. This is pretty classic Lerche; the pop sensibility is almost always spiked by something darker and more sinister. “Go Right Ahead” also feels like a staple of his catalog. It’s a rollicking, damn-near country-flavored romp complemented by a driving, steady percussionist; still, haunting high-pitched synths hint at a darkness Lerche won’t relinquish.
The second half of the record is similarly bleaker, darker, and more focused on balladry. “Domino” suggests both Nick Drake and Donovan, two artists he undoubtedly admires. And although he’s also declared his love for The Beach Boys and a-ha, his contemporaries are more off-kilter singer-songwriters like Jens Lekman or Thomas Dybdahl. Those two have something on Lerche, a delicacy or grace absent at moments in his longer, sometimes whiny songs (“Living Dangerously,” the insufferable “Tied up to the Tide”).
Sondre Lerche isn’t unstoppable. There are songs on this self-titled effort that work, some don’t so much. Luckily, “When the River” is a closer that sends you away from this record without a bad taste in your mouth, ready to give future efforts a listen.