Jens Lekman I Know What Love Isn’t

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Frankly I’m glad this review is now almost six months late. Had I written a review upon its September 3rd release, I probably wouldn’t have been so receptive to the Swede’s third long-player. Largely absent from this effort are the unusual samples that made so many of Jens Lekman’s songs so memorable–and that’s not to say that the 10 songs that comprise I Know What Love Isn’t aren’t memorable, it’s just that they’re of a different breed.

Rarely does cover art so accurately reflect the music contained within; for the casual fan, a lot of I Know What Love Isn’t may seem flat and unfinished, almost forgettable compared to the bright and vivid colors used to paint his previous efforts Night Falls Over Kortedala and Oh You’re So Silent Jens. But like so many brilliant artists, Jens is a victim of his oeuvre. Compared to his previous albums, I Know What Love Isn’t is intentionally and comparatively bland, evoking the earthy and dull UPS-brown that dominates the cover art.

It’s been five years since we last caught up with our Swedish hero and 2012 finds him struggling to mend a broken heart. Jen’s strained heartache is strongly reminiscent of Beck’s Sea Change; both share similar themes, both are minimalistic albums from artists who are known to be extremely bright and expressive, both are departures from sample-heavy discographies, and both are brilliant despite their flaws. What makes Jen’s heart-ache so special is his ability to dissect ordinary moments that may seem inconsequential at the time but are later revealed to be signs of impending doom . Lyrics like “‘Baby, what’s wrong?’ You say ‘Nothing. It’s nothing.'” seem so ordinary in print, but as part of the chorus to “Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder”, become utterly devastating.

What becomes clear early on is that Jens has done a lot of the suffering on his own already. Lyrically many of the songs suggest that, yes, hearts may be broken, but they may be mended as well. Jens reminds us that you don’t ever recover from a broken heart, you just learn to carry it gracefully, and while the world moves on whether or not you’re OK, you can take comfort in the fact that there’s someone out there somewhere just as brokenhearted as you.

Grade: A-

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The Best Ways to Win an Album of the Year at the Grammys

The Grammys are a funny thing.  They present awards for a range of different categories, from Best Recording Package to Best Music Video to Record of the Year.  However, if music is supposed to be art, then how exactly do the Grammys decided on who has the best art?  Isn’t art just an expression of oneself?  What criteria does the Grammy selection committee use to determine who’s art is best?

Fortunately, I’ve done years of research, watching each neverending Grammy award show after the next.  My friends go out and party during the weekends.  I suffer for my cause.  I watch the Grammys.

Yet, there is a bright side.  After all of this research, I have concocted a list of the five best ways to win an Album of the Year, the most prestigious Grammy award.  In so doing, it goes without reason that this list truly is the criteria to judge all performers on the worthiness of their art.

Without further adieu, here is the list:

1. Be Old

With age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes Grammys.  From Robert Plant’s Grammy in 2009 to Herbie Hancock’s in 2008 to  Steely Dan’s in 2001, it is plain to see that if you’re about to kick the bucket, the Grammys would like to congratulate you for living.

Your chances to win Album of the Year improve astronomically if you actually once were deserving of this honor.  For instance, Bob Dylan won it in 1998 for Time Out of Mind (a truly great album), but the man never won one for any of his string of rule-breaking 60s masterpieces (Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, etc.).  It was almost as if the Grammys gave him the one in 1998 to basically say “Sorry about that whole refusing-to-give-you-an-award thing way back when.  You were a bit too controversial in those days.  Now that you’re older and accepted, we love you…and retroactively love all your brilliant past work.”

2. Be Popular

This explains why the Foo Fighters always get nominated (2008, 2012).  It also explains the Black Eyed Peas nomination in 2010.  (Actually, nothing explains that.)  It’s the reason Alanis Morissette won for Jagged Little Pill in 1996.  Did anyone actually think that was the best album that year?  Yes.  The Grammys did.  Her art was best.

3. Be Someone Other than Radiohead

Radiohead is many things to many people.  They’ve won widespread acclaim.  Pitchfork readers want to make love to them.  They are popular.  They are indie.  They are crazy businessmen.  However, there’s one thing they are not.  Grammy winners.

Time (1998) and time (2001) and time (2009) again, they have been nominated.  Yet time (1998) and time (2001) and time (2009) again, they have lost.  OK Computer and Kid A are considered by most to be groundbreaking works in the industry and stone cold masterpieces, yet they still lost.  Astoundingly, in 2009 the band even showed up and played a killer performance of “15 Step” from In Rainbows (below), and still lost.

After doing a bit of digging, I realized why they lost.  Winners from those three years, in order, are Bob Dylan, Steely Dan, and Robert Plant (with Alison Krauss).  The average age of those winners is around 500, while the average age of Thom Yorke and the Yorkettes is about 40.  Despite what they say, music isn’t a young man’s game.  It’s an old man’s game for an old man that once was great as a young man.

4. Be Scheduled to Perform on the Grammys

When was the last time you saw a Grammy winner that didn’t actually perform on the show?  Never, right.  It’s like the whole thing is staged.  Anyway, everyone knows that artists who have TV friendly good looks make the best art.   How else can you explain how Whitney Houston’s soundtrack for The Bodyguard beat R.E.M.’s classic Automatic for the People in 1994?  Bald white guys never make the best art.

5. Be “Americana”

I may not know much, but I do know that America is obsessed about America.  Ford trucks, Bud Light, slavery, etc.  We are a proud nation.  Celebrating our roots is part of our culture.  The Grammy selection committee endorses this celebration wholeheartedly.  In music, celebrating our roots is called playing “Americana” or “folk” music.  It tends to involve a middle-aged white guy with a beard or some sort of old-fashioned facial hair.  This is why I expect Mumford & Sons to win this year.

Mumford and Sons in concert - London

A bunch of white guys with facial hair playing acoustic guitars and other old-timey instruments? Give them the trophy already.

All Americans know that American music is the best music.  It goes without saying that it’s the best art.

There you have it.  Check out the Grammys and let me have it if I’m wrong (which I won’t be).

Music Fun Fact #9,358: The Super Bowl Brings Out The Worst In Performers

I don’t watch football. There, I said it. I’ve been roped nearly every year into joining the national phenomenon known as the Super Bowl. This involves eating nachos, drinking beer, and commenting on overproduced commercials. In between all of this, there’s a game that takes way too long. (Also, every year I inevitably relearn the Roman Numerals. They’re outdated and useless in every situation other than the Super Bowl.)

However, I’m not here to discuss any of that. I’m discussing the little known fact that the Super Bowl Halftime Show has rarely brought out anything but the worst in people.

Let me count the Top 5 worst incidents.

5.  Bruce Springsteen, Super Bowl XLIII, 2009: The crotch slide.

I should say, I love The Boss. He’s made innumerable amazing songs, so many, in fact, that he deserves to get away with murder. But this was not his best moment. This was not anyone’s best moment.

4.  Aerosmith, ‘N Sync, and Britney Spears, Super Bowl XXXV, 2001: The game changer.

Nothing would give Aerosmith more street cred than joining the likes of the fabulous ‘N Sync and Britney Spears for a rousing and not-at-all staged version of “Walk This Way”. This performance led these artists to seriously reevaluate their career decisions. ‘N Sync soon broke up after, well, deciding they suck. Britney Spears got married, got divorced, shaved her head, got large, and then got skinny again. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith decided to make the largest move: he joined American Idol.

At least they all stopped singing for a while.

3.  The Black Eyed Peas, Super Bowl XLV, 2011:  Tron Re-lived

I really don’t know what’s worse: the fact that they dressed like robots were expected to look like from shows that occurred in the 70s, the fact that I watched more than 30 seconds of it to “research” this post, or that these lyrics happened:

“I got that boom boom pow, them chickens jockin’ my style
They try to copy my swagger, I’m on that next shit now
I’m so three thousand and eight, you so two thousand and late
I got that boom boom boom, that future boom boom boom”

“Boom Boom Pow” (from The E.N.D.)

2.  Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, XXXVIII, 2004: Nipplegate

Yup. Next.

1.  Elvis Presto, Super Bowl XXIII, 1989:  Umm…WHAT!?

Yes people, this happened. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this. Apparently someone thought an Elvis impersonator would make a great halftime performance for a couple hundred million people to see. Did I mention it was in 3-D?