In Defense of the Singer-Songwriter

Norwegian Sondre Lerche yanks this DIY ethos back to the side of the good with his release of Two Way Monologue.

INT: SOME POOR SHMOE’S APARTMENT

A man, “the critic”, in black-framed glasses and Soft Boys t-shirt harangues another, an apparently normal, well-adjusted person, except for the fact that he is backed into a corner.

NORMAL GUY:

I invite you into my house, make you dinner, let you play with my kids...damn!  I shoulda known... 

CRITIC:

No!  You don’t get it!!  Hold on, this Sondre Lerche guy...he’s really clever but so sincere, examining great matters via the important little things...he’s very...how else can I put this...uh...sensitive.

NORMAL GUY:

Shut.  Up!  Don’t..! 

CRITIC:

Hold it; hold it!  I’m just trying to tell you about this stellar new talent...a real fresh voice in so many ways; well, let’s just say he does it all, like...like a bard of old, he is...

Where are you going?  Brushing your teeth?  Okay, you’ve got stuff to do.  Yeah, but you should really hear about Sondre Lerche.

Yeah, he’s as brilliant, gifted, and charming as Sir Paul himself.  A singer-songwriter, who...

Now, now...Woah!  Put down the chair, friend.  I can see why you’d initially be put off, but if you’d just give it a...CHAAAaannnce!!

EXT: OUTSIDE APARTMENT

Door slam resounds.  brExit music critic, having suffered just a few bumps and bruises in game defense of a genre that has been killed (and summarily raped) countless times.

******

On his first album, Billy Joel pretentiously refers to himself (in verse, no less!) as a bard, a troubadour-—nicely illustrating the invalidation of the singer-songwriter.  For anyone who survived the seventies, a decade full of froggy-throated clumsily-conceived quasi-sensitive nonsense spewed from that clan of variously bearded, passive aggressively mellow, and painfully earnest (often ironic to the dippy content) singer-songwriters, even someone as distinctive as a romantic world-weary  Norwegian may be a hard sell.  Fie on everyone on that interminable list of phony, self-indulgent, mongoloids that have made this personal, direct form of music unpalatable; fuck you, Billy Joel. 

Of course, serious arguments for the genre abound.  Let’s implicate a few.  Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, Townes Van Zandt, Stevie Wonder, and Todd Rundgren (who kicked the genre’s ass all over town with his release of Something/Anything?) all fall among an endless stream of artists who—bravely risking categorization alongside James Taylor and Jim Croce--followed this compulsion to express exactly what they needed in precisely the manner they needed to.  No filtration.  No bullshit.  Add to this list a young man named Sondre Lerche.

Get past Two Way Monologue’s cover, with Lerche staring his wearily-creased sensitivity into your soul (in a scarf, black and white, and against the artsy mainstay brick wall, no less), throw on the record, and out flows not only an acoustic guitar awash with violins ala Nick Drake, but a lovely voice will soon confer: “Down came the sky/And all you did was blink/I would cry like I never do/In order to stay true”.  Ad hoc emotion?  Maybe.  Delivered so well it wouldn’t matter if it was?  Absolutely.

Sondre Lerche is an artist who, only on his second album, projects a stunning maturity, not only writing every lyric and note, but playing a number of the instruments as well.  Yes, this suggests a lack of counter voice which virtually always makes for the awkward, overly-insular public humiliation that is trademark of the singer songwriter...like Morrissey without the balance of Marr.  But Lerche?  He’s Morrissey and Marr combined.

Lennon and McCartney combined as well?  Sure, Lerche seems to know when to holler for a hand from a George Martin or two, such as on most of the production and the gorgeous string arrangements.  But split personality is what Two Way Monologue is all about, so Lerche may just as well host a whole Steppenwolf-sized party of people inside his big, brilliant noggin. 

The title track begins suspiciously with earnestness croaked over a sloppily-strummed acoustic guitar.  Through the historically-disadvantaged veil of singer songwriter sucketry and a song whose first word is: “Mum”, the natural assumption that this will be a very bad way to spend time, that reflex towards the eject button—well, the feelings seem justified, especially with Lerche’s unfiltered emotional ballast.  Pop luminosity quickly dispels any doubts.  For, after a mere 54 seconds, the pace doubles, a tight and dynamic rhythm section leaps into the fray, and all the important parts are underscored masterfully with cymbal crashes, neo-futuristic keyboards, funk riffs, and even a skronking sax hook just for kicks.  Wonderfully synthesized, absolutely delightful...pure pop.

Perky horns, earthy organs, and layers of keyboards (space chimes and harpsichords imparting the band visual of robots in paisley bellbottoms) provide the kick-off for the chorus of “Counter Spark” which features some of the cutest “Ba-ba-ba baa-ba’s” this side of the Partridge Family.  A love song for cynical times, “I chose you from a million/You were the choice of billions/wishing they would try to be like you/But I’d rather fall in love with you”, the pretty mess ends in nihilistic defiance: “I’ll pass you by and fall in love with you”. 

Lend your ears and heart to Two Way Monologue all alone at first...but leave that bedroom door cracked so the earnestness of this “option-less, turkey-free, and blind” humanist with his seductive acoustic-cum-23rd-century support leaks out.  Anyone with any feelings of romance (as in: “in love with feeling”) will pick up on the raw emotion, go absolutely ape shit, and understand that having an open mind and love of music means granting everything a second examination, even that DIY (thanks to Croce and his ilk, now come to abbreviate dreadfully inane yarbling) singer-songwriter.

Lerche comes across effortless and phenomenally gifted and is charming as all git-out live. Look for him solo or backed by the excellent Faces Down.

www.sondrelerche.com

www.astralwerks.com


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