Self-titling a record that isn’t one’s first is always a risky move. An eponymous album inevitably implies some kind of definitive statement right off the bat, so if the content doesn’t stack up, the artist may end up seeming uninspired or even—for lack of a better word (or, as the case may be, lack of a better title)—lazy. As such, while Norwegian-born singer/songwriter/all-around cutie pie Sondre Lerche’s seventh LP, Sondre Lerche, is by no means a bad record, it fails to live up to its self-inflicted expectations. It also suffers the misfortune of being released within weeks of one of the most impressive self-titled non-debuts in recent memory, Bon Iver’s Bon Iver, but that is neither here nor there.
Expectations and comparisons aside, Lerche’s newest album does provide listeners with a solid 40 minutes of lovely melodies. Opening track “Ricochet” begins with meek and wistful vocals layered sweetly over muted guitar chords. “Shimmering underneath the sea/sentimental echoes spike my memory/hard to make believe nothing means anything to me,” croons Lerche in a melancholy falsetto, before the track builds to an orchestral crescendo rife with spiraling strings and wordless vocal harmonies. Then it’s off to Rome—a.k.a. “Coliseum Town”—where Lerche slips dreamily into the well-worn role of Tourist Using Travel As A Metaphor For His Own Provincial Limitations: “I go stumbling cobbled streets/with the map you drew on me/and I can’t decide/did you leave or ever arrive?”
Ultimately, Lerche retains his flair for quality song making, but hasn’t quite managed to reignite the youthful idiosyncrasies of his earlier albums. While still the lovable, bright-eyed émigré he’s always been, Lerche isn’t 19 anymore, and at times it feels like the endearingly self-deprecating charisma that oozed from his earlier albums has been replaced by a rather blasé outlook on the American adulthood he seems to have settled into. But perhaps that’s just because the whole album was recorded over three weeks in Brooklyn, and thereby reflects just that one particular intersection of time, place, and mood. As Lerche reminds us in “Coliseum Town”, “I try to make another love song rhyme/but it’s harder than it seems/to describe what I just dreamed.”
Clearly, Lerche has not lost his power of introspection, nor has he given up his love for sonic exploration—it’s all just been a bit smoothed over. “Tied Up to the Tide” experiments with breathy, echo-y, M. Ward-style vocals alongside a plodding beat and delightfully unexpected accordion accents. Then “Domino” submerges us into a warm bath of chiming acoustics and soothing percussion alongside a chorus with tones reminiscent of a Wayne Coyne soprano.
To keep listeners from drowning in the not unpleasant but slightly bland soup of sweetly wistful ambivalence that seems to constitute the majority of the album, we can call upon a trio of buoyant pop songs scattered throughout the effort. These upbeat tracks are the record’s true gems, from the radio-ready repetitions of “Private Caller” to the poly-rhythmic sparkle of “Go Right Ahead” to the grand finale “When the River”, which twists Lerche’s pretty falsetto around an unexpectedly funky beat before blossoming into a harmonious choral chant that evokes the kind of hard-won joy depicted at the end of movies, where people with tear-stained but smiling faces sway back and forth with their arms around each other. Ah, redemption. Or at least a pretty way to tie things up.