The Common Good

Jens Lekman: Why You Should Check out Swedish Indie Pop

Alberto Garcia, Flickr
Jens Lekman came to the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. last Friday. Alberto Garcia, Flickr

Jens Lekman is a storyteller.

Wait, Jens who? How do you pronounce that?

Jens (pronounced “Yens”) Lekman is a witty, hopelessly romantic Swedish musician from a suburb of Gothenburg.

Lekman was at the 9:30 club in D.C. last Friday — armed with a small acoustic guitar that fuels his unique indie pop style. Occasionally he reached over and pressed the pads of his sampler, cuing thumping bass accompaniment and flurries of strings to compliment his smooth voice, violinist, bassist, drummer, and pianist.

While he may not be on top of the iTunes album charts, Jens (I feel like we’re on a first name basis simply because he was so relaxed and open at the show) is definitely worth a listen, whether it’s at home, in the car, on the go, or — especially — in concert.

Which brings us back to storytelling. Jens’ songs are essentially stories, and he wasn’t afraid to tell the context for each story to introduce most of his songs. Good stories will always draw an audience in — just think of the way pastors almost have to include them in every sermon. Jens’ stories also let us in on some of his personal experiences and life lessons, which in turn makes the audience feel connected to the performer in a deeper way.

But it needs to be noted that there is a difference between a good storyteller and a bad one. Simply inserting a few stories into a concert or a sermon doesn’t necessarily mean audiences will pay attention.

I went to see Tim O’Brien at the Kennedy Center this Saturday, and he was a good example of how not to tell a story. O’Brien is a great musician, but for some reason he told a painfully long story that seemed to have little significance about spending an afternoon with one of his musical heroes. It lost the audience’s attention because of length and lack of action — in content and on stage, as O’Brien strummed the same chord progression for what seemed like forever — and didn’t really shed any light onto the subsequent song.

Jens, however, told stories that were lighthearted and out of the ordinary. And all of them provided a framework for understanding the song he was about to play.

Consider his introduction to the song “The End of the World is Bigger Than Love,” where Lekman described a lonely trip to D.C. four years ago on Election Day after a pretty hard breakup. After sitting alone in a hotel room for a while, Jens desperately emailed a fan from the area to find something to do and went to a party she was hosting. Once the election results were declared Jens walked out into the streets and found people jumping and shouting in celebration. He immediately felt happy to be a part of something bigger than himself — an idea that became the basis for his song.

What might seem like the end of the world when you get dumped actually isn’t the end of the world. The end of the world is bigger than romantic love. 

Brandon Hook is the Online Assistant at Sojourners.

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