The more grounded Jens Lekman’s music gets, the more Swedish singer-songwriter seems to write dark comedies. He toned down the whimsy found in his breakthrough album Night Falls Over Kortedala down to earth in his second offering I Know What Love Isn’t, resulting in a self-deprecating scoff at the notion of a happily ever after. And while his new album Life Will See You Now finds a livelier spirit behind the music than the bitter homebody portrayed on the 2012 album, he dwells upon a much more serious thought: What are we here for? And what to make of all this time?
These daunting questions provide the chorus of the album’s bouncy opening number “To Know Your Mission,” but Life Will See You Now starts off on a much softer note aurally than how those queries would read strictly on paper. Lekman slides these heavy thoughts like a lover sweetly asking for a favor. To keep it even lighter, he takes time in the bridge to deliver a bite-sized routine for a chuckle. He tackles his questions in earnest but with the right amount of fluff, suggesting such an inevitable wonder doesn’t have to necessarily be soul-crushing.
Though Lekman sings these songs in Life Will See You Now as a storybook narration, his songs stand more as hard allegory than fantasy tales. More than himself, he observes outside characters and how they decide to use their time on this planet. The life of some like the electrician mentioned in passing of “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel” unfortunately doesn’t pan out exactly as they have hoped. Others like the pair of best friends of “How Can I Tell Him” are on the verge of creating that regret by not acting upon their impulses.
Regret, and the very reminders of that regret, loom large on Life Will See You Now and make for great moments. “What’s That Perfume You Wear?” fixates upon the girl that got away as much as the peculiar fragrance bringing back the memory of her presence. The idea of a 3D printing of a tumor in “Evening Prayer” is memorable enough, but Lekman makes the creation reveal much more about the relationship between the song central characters. “He puts the tumor on the table, ‘so, this is what caused all my fears,’” one character remarks; his friend then shows gratitude at the sheer fact he’s still alive. Lekman delivers the dialog coolly, but the lyrics relieve an overwhelming weight off the shoulders of everyone involved.
Resonant moments such as the one in “Evening Prayer” in Life Will See You Now unfold often with Lekman exploring a relationship between two people and how the passage of time influences it. This being Lekman, it’s not without humor; “How We Met, the Long Version” recounts a chance meeting between two lovers, but Lekman rewinds it all the way back to the Big Bang to tell the story. The chorus of “Wedding in Finistere” offers a much bleaker, yet nevertheless funny, look at the effects of time. “I felt like a five-year-old watching the ten-year-olds shoplifting,” he shares to explain what it feels like to watch other people get married.
As lighthearted the sashaying music sounds, Life Will See You Now makes time seem nothing but a cruel part of everyday life. Characters age in the various songs in the album, but like the wedding guests of “Wedding in Finistere,” they don’t grow up in sync to their respective age. More often than not, they’re stuck repeating the same things as they did when they were young. But that static condition in the songs make the catalysts that change the very course of the characters that much more precious. The lie to borrow a bass guitar in “How I Met, the Long Version,” the 3D-printed tumor in “Evening Prayer,” bumping into teenage Jens Lekman himself in “To Know Your Mission”: these happenstances stick with the album as much as they do in the characters’ lives.
Perhaps as some consolation, Lekman does present a moment where a character relieves a time of regret. The album’s middle song “Our First Fight” begins with a couple sharing a tense air after some bickering, but it’s settled in the most adorable way: “And you mouth out ‘I love you’ the way a parent spells ice cream: ‘I-L-O-V-E-Y-O-U,’ like there’s kids in the room,” Lekman sings. Knowing what time can do, who knows where this imaginary couple would be at now? But this moment of innocence is too good to care about what happens after. While the big questions of what to do with our time might go unanswered in Life Will See You Now, sometimes, like “Our First Fight,” it’s better to go forward without knowing a thing.