If anyone knows how to get over a breakup, it’s Jens Lekman.
The Swedish singer-songwriter’s third studio album is supposedly about a breakup, but I Know What Love Isn’t sidesteps the whiney ballads you’d expect from such a tired theme. Instead, Lekman uses his tender, understated voice to reminisce—a tale for which the breakup is merely an afterthought.
This record continues Lekman’s tradition of marrying his modest voice (somewhere between the deep tone of Frank Sinatra and the wispy murmur of the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt) with simple instrumentals. Lekman’s tracks integrate myriad sounds while keeping each instrument distinct, and it’s nice to separately listen to the guitar, violin, harp, recorder and xylophone each song has to offer.
The album’s playful nature resonates in the cut’s lyrics: “Let’s get married,” he says, “But only for the citizenship.” Female laughter in the background confirms the light-heartedness Lekman is trying to convey. The song is a sentimental reflection of a finished relationship, but it’s not nostalgic—consider it storytelling, not wistful yearning. Likewise, Lekman’s title-track narrates a good-humored conversation with his presumable ex.
“Every Little Hair Knows Your Name” makes two appearances on the album, once as a pluck-heavy serenade and again as a short, lyric-less piano piece. The former is Lekman’s most tender moment in a long musical career. He paints otherwise artless lyrics to emphasize his vulnerability: “I started working out when we broke up/ I can do 100 pushups… probably do two [hundred] if I was bored.” Lekman isn’t trying to garner gym bro credit here; he’s putting into words his post-breakup attempts at self-improvement, this lingering feeling that he was not good enough.
Lekman tries his hand at soul in “Erica America,” which uses Spanish guitar, piano and saxophone to emulate the sound of a jazz club. The lyrics are more spiteful here than anywhere else in the album: “I wish I’d never met you like I wish I’d never tasted wine from lips that weren’t mine/ Now every drop tastes more bitter all the time.” It’s dark for Lekman but, as far as breakup songs go, Lekman’s dark is anyone else’s murky.
Closure is elusive and hard to locate in any relationship, but we’re told it’s the trick to getting over a breakup. Lekman knows this. He understands that moving on isn’t about hate or dwelling on the negative but rather taking the end of a relationship with a grain of salt. With this record, Lekman pretends he’s cool with it, tells us his story and, finally, finds closure.