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.