JENS LEKMAN with the DATING SERVICE and DJ JOEL GIBB as part of Wavelength at Sneaky Dee's (300 College), Sunday (March 13). Pwyc. www.wavelengthtoronto.com. Rating: NNNNN
Call Jens Lekman a girly man and he'll shake your hand and thank you for the compliment. Never mind that his press bio is crammed with allusions to the girls whose hearts he's stolen and paints an image of the suave Swede as quite a Lothario.
And for those who think Swedish music is all balls-out rockitude the likes of Howlin' Pelle and his Hives or the histrionics of the Hellacopters, Lekman's willingness to embrace his sissy side may seem utterly at odds with his homeland scene.
In fact, Lekman's sensitive, whimsically lilting balladry is probably way more representative of the Swedish status quo than the barrage rawk. Along with countrymates like footballer-turned-neo-Nick Drake Nicolai Dunger and jangly chamber pop crew the Concretes, Lekman's in the thick of a burgeoning indie pop explosion that people on this side of the Atlantic are only beginning to tune into.
"There's something that's been going on in Sweden for the past few years," he explains by cellphone from a tour stop in Bloomington, Indiana, where he's grabbing a quick bite post-sound check. "It's like people want to get rid of anything that has to do with rawk."
He says he's getting sick of the over-the-top machismo: "I want to go somewhere that's all about femininity."
But not in an ooey-gooey Hallmark sense. The guy writes about a plethora of lovely lady friends - his recent When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog (Secretly Canadian) disc pays tribute to Lisa, Silvia and Julie by name, for example - set against a tasteful backdrop of gentle strumming, low-key samba rhythms and chirping birds.
But the version of love you find in Lekman's lyrics is deftly mediated through a variety of popcult lenses. The piano bar ditty If You Ever Need A Stranger moons over the idealized romanticism of Bacharach and David ballads, while the title track finds fragile pathos in Iggy's grimy testosterawk whine as Lekman insists, "When I said I wanted to be your dog, I wasn't coming on to you;" he just wants to lick raindrops from the lucky lady's face. Sigh.
Even the swingy handclap singalong Do You Remember The Riots? frames a floundering relationship against the violent 2001 anti-Bush protests in Gothenburg. It's remarkably upbeat for a song that takes place in the context of protestors getting beaten and shot.
"It's not political at all, which pisses off people in Sweden," laughs Lekman. "But I like that it's a love story set against the riots. Love doesn't always happen on beaches with fireworks.
"Before the actual rioting started, I was having a great time. Even when chaos started to break out I felt like something was finally happening in this shitty town. But then I felt rocks flying above my head and realized cops were beating kids up.
"That was the first time I realized things wouldn't actually work out in my relationship," he continues. "I thought maybe we'd be drawn together cuz we'd been through something so intense, but the fact that we weren't was a sign that the love was in its death shudder."
Just because his songs aren't about politics doesn't mean he's not thinking about them. Talking to Lekman, who's studied everything from art to linguistics, you realize he's a guy steeped in critical thought.
So it makes even more sense that he's become pals with Joel Gibb, the semiotics-obsessed perv savant behind the Hidden Cameras. The two bonded when Lekman toured with the Cameras (who are apparently huge in Sweden - who knew?) in his home country. In fact, Gibb's planning to release Lekman's next EP on his own Evil Evil label.
Although Lekman's last few releases, including the awesome Rocky Dennis R.I.P. EP (a pseudo-concept disc dedicated to the love story in the disfigured protagonist Cher vehicle Mask) have come out on Bloomington's Secretly Canadian label, he claims they're open to experimentation.
"Secretly Canadian structures its relationships with its artists as a marriage, complete with affairs," he laughs. "It wants artists to release a bunch of their records on the label, but they can fool around. I love fooling around on labels. It's like relationships. I don't only want to work with one at a time, cuz I'd get bored."