It's been four years since Jens Lekman last put out any music. An Argument With Myself offers no apologies or explanations: it's just eighteen minutes of polished, confident indie pop storytelling. Business as usual.
Lekman's precisely worded sung-spoken tales are as clever, funny and touching as they've ever been. Right from the get-go, he's wringing humour and pathos out of some of the peculiar situations in which he's found himself. The title track opens with Lekman staggering down a Melbourne street, drunk and arguing with himself: 'bumping into backpackers/and struggling with the parameters/and the basic construction of my feet'. He tosses images both grotesque ('the backpackers are pouring out like a tidal wave of vomit') and poetic ('The lonely light from the town hall clock tower') into a four-minute account of loneliness and discontent. The track's Caribbean rhythms and lightly funky vibe recall Graceland-era Paul Simon.
The next two songs transport us from Australia to Sweden. 'Waiting For Kirsten' starts and ends as a whimsical tale of Lehman's failed attempt to meet Kirsten Dunst whilst she was filming in Gothenburg (his attempt to send a message to her at her hotel was abruptly halted when 'the receptionist said I was drunk and asked me to leave'), but in the middle unexpectedly rails against those who 'turned a youth centre into a casino' and 'drew a swastika in your cappuccino'. The singer has spoken in interviews about his disgust of the political direction his country is taking, and 'A Promise' features another barbed aside: 'Emmanuel, will the doctors let you be ill?/Or are the new laws quoting quotas they have to fill?'. The song itself is not wholly successful; a little too long and a little too sentimental, it lopes along half-heartedly.
The cheeky horns which open 'New Direction' signal a welcome change of pace and tone. The song opens with Lekman giving a friend a series of directions to somewhere or other; perhaps it's an attempt to demonstrate that he can make absolutely anything sound interesting. If so, it's a success, featuring winning lines such as 'sometimes I get the feeling this town's been constructed around me brick by brick'. 'So This Guy At The Office' rounds things off in a relaxed, silly style, with Lekman crooning about a co-worker who 'smells like Earl Grey'. It's a slight but successful song, like most of the tracks collected here. An Argument With Myself augers well for a (currently hypothetical) future full-length.