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