Under The Influence Episode 2:  Jens Lekman 

My contemporaries, the folks that were small children in the 80s (but are old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall or even the 1986 Challenger disaster), surely have saccharin sweet memories of that time. While much of the world was in either outright turmoil or threat of turmoil, the everyday life of a middle class family living in Massachusetts was quite peaceful. Weekends were spent bouncing around the house with MTV blasting, and summers were spent with friends and family in Ocean City or on Martha’s Vineyard.   

If I look back on any given day in 1987 I find myself hard pressed to not remember some new musical discovery…for that matter I’d be hard pressed to find a day that’s not awash in the Bangles hit, “Walk Like An Egyptian.” Bangles aside, in those days when MTV wasn’t filling the room with new wave hits we always had the record player spinning. That’s when I first fell in love with The Beatles, Motown, and soul music. My sister and I would put together dance routines to the tune of my dad singing some Temptations song… Or sometimes I would don 8 to 10 rings and pretend I was Ringo banging away at my toy drum. Now, some 25 to 30 years have passed and I look back and see how formative those times were for me. Which brings me finally to the point of all of this:  

Jens Lekman, a Swedish contemporary and inspiration of mine, clearly was also deeply shaped by the music of his childhood. In his stellar song, “Maple Leaves,” he pays homage to the AM Gold of yesteryear by sampling both The Mamas and The Papas and Glen Campbell! A few years back Brad Sanders at Stereogum had this to say, “The appeal of Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman has often been described in terms of his apparent lack of appeal. His signature baritone is slightly nasal and far from classically accomplished, and his arrangements borrow recklessly from 20th century pop — both canonized and disreputable. The conventional wisdom holds that much of what makes Lekman great is his ability to recast forgotten or critically dismissed popular music as being artistically equal to more serious, beloved work. That’s only fair to an extent. While “Maple Leaves” surely drove some listeners who never would have otherwise to check out the Mamas & The Papas and their great version of “Do You Wanna Dance?” that the song samples, it wouldn’t have had that effect if Lekman didn’t make his own song work first.” Here I think Brad nails it: Unlike many modern hip hop artists (I’m calling you out Kanye!), Jens integrates these samples in such a way that they not only breath life back into old or forgotten songs but also give his music even more meaning and depth.   

His story telling and his uncanny grasp of the English language heavily compliment his musical depth. There are few native English speakers in this day and age that utilize subtle double entrendres, puns, and idioms as well as Lekman. While in “Maples Leaves” there is not any outright language-trickery, Lekman utilizes a clever metaphor to enhance the song. In the song, the main character keeps mishearing his partner’s words (e.g. swapping ‘make believe’ for ‘maple leaves’) which echoes his inability to emotionally understand his partner. Emotional weight is really felt in this story and song, which comes about through Lekman’s tasteful melding of nostalgia and earnest.  

All in all it’s both Lekman’s use of sampled music and his unique story telling methods that have inspired me. In recent years I’ve been diving back into the 60s and 70s pop catalog for inspiration and I’m not going to lie I found a few gems that I plan on sampling as well. I hope you find “Maple Leaves” as intriguing as I do; and if you do you’ll be happy to hear that he will be releasing his next full-length album on February 17th entitled, “Life Will See You Now.”  

Cheers everyone,  

Jens Lekman's "Maple Leaves" 

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