Monday, September 22, 2014

Sondre Lerche - Please (2014)

Though the break-up album tends to be almost a rite of passage for the serious singer/songwriter, one of the greatest feats of Sondre Lerche has been to stave off such a milestone for the better part of his musical career so far. There's been an off song or two (though those were mostly on earlier albums) but nothing in the vein of a true break up record. That is until now - seven albums in and one divorce later - Sondre Lerche's primed and ready to throw his voice into the fray. My favorite break up albums tend to function as cautionary tales - a veritable list of relationship do's and don'ts that if followed might help you avoid such a painful split. Sondre Lerche's Please however upends that notion completely. On Please's 10 songs - Lerche speaks from a point of clarity and yet there's both plenty of blame to go around and no obvious culprit.

A career-defining knack for pop songcraft - perhaps the most surprising and yet not entirely when you really think about it is just how damn catchy Please is. Lerche's always maintained an image of being sensitive but no wuss, of being emotional but not a whiner and that's at play on a number of Please tracks. Or at least the ones that promise to be the most revealing; the most confessional. But for the most part Lerche plays his trademark role as the nice guy with a heart of gold and shredding guitar skills. There's an emotional distance which obscures just how much of the songs lyrics are autobiographical and which are just cobbled from the common experience, past, present, and imaginary for the sake of narrative cohesion. Songs like "Legends" and "Lucifer" offer almost playfully tongue-in-check expressions of anger and regret adrift on downright infectious melodies.

Opener "Bad Law" more or less sets the tone of the album with it's danceable grooves and playful lyricism. Lerche's a pop musician and an consummate entertainer and ultimately the thing that keeps you coming back for more. In fact "At Times We Live Alone" is perhaps the only track on all of Please that allows itself to be a full on ballad. "Sentimentalist" appears to go that route at first but there's an undeniable underlying momentum, it's a jam even if an emotively fueled one. Lerche's not going to wallow but that's not to say that he's glossing over the emotional fallout either - rather he's presenting it real or obscured though many of the lyrics even when the general nature is upbeat like on "Loss For Words". Lerche wants his voice to be heard but doesn't resort to the abrasive shout of Phantom Punch. Lerche is older and wiser; preferering to offer most of his most important points/counterpoints with a nuanced and almost conversational air. "I'm not holding onto innocence/I'm not holding onto violence/But I'll be letting go of you" Lerche offers helpfully on "After the Exorcism". Lerche's not looking to rage, he's just trying to navigate through the tumult.

Please is more than more of the same from Lerche: it manages to encapsulate what fans have responded to most about Lerche from his early love of Brazil pop and jazz ("Legends"/"Lucifer") and while pushing Lerche's experimentations forward. The power of Lerche's long awaited break up album is the direct result of his subversion of the notions of what makes a good break up record. Lerche doesn't pretend nothing happened; that life simply goes back to the way it was before married life, but neither does he dwell too much on his regret or failure. The heartbreak, heart ache, and anger don't define you and neither should they Lerche seems to posit. It's a mature point but one that doesn't arrive without reasoning. Please is, at it's core, a sort of progression through grief, bristling up against understated moments of contented acceptance before it eventually arrives there to stay.

 Sondre Lerche's seventh studio album Please is out September 23rd on Mona Records. Please is now streaming via NPR's First Listen.

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