Last year's Sondre Lerche's Please falls into the same category. It might not be as groundbreaking as the two albums mentioned above, but I argue that it would be a shame if this record fell into the dustbins of pop culture, as it is a real achievement for the prolific songwriter, one that should not be forgotten; I shall try to give the whole picture to explain why.
I have been listening to Sondre Lerche for quite a while actually. He is Norwegian, and reputedly a fan (they are not so many) of the subtle lyricism of my all-time hero when it comes to songwriting, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy (whom, by the way, he thanks in the liner notes of Please). Lerche has never been a personal favorite, but can write pretty good songs, and all his albums are nice, if rather light (he has also released a bunch of really good soundtracks worth checking). The now Brooklyn-based songwriter overuses at times major seventh chords, and favors efficiency over audacity, but can be evocative about modern life in big cities, and his hooks have a juvenile quality that makes them resonate long in your memory if you were on the same wavelength when you listened to them for the first time.
Please is not a complete departure in that respect. The songwriting is still typically Lerche (which means: not very unique, if still substantial), but with an experimental direction production-wise that allows it to transcend his jazzy-pop idiosyncrasy, coupled with a more sincere, less impersonal approach when it comes to the lyrics. Formally it is surprisingly upbeat in that context, poppier and hookier than anything he has ever done; and in that respect, it is closer to Blur's 13 (another break-up inspired record) than to the two albums aforementioned. But as with the British band (who, by the way, just announced their first album as a four-piece since 13), it always sounds inventive, each song offering its own singular gems. The guitar playing blurs the distinction between rock and electro in "Bad Law” and "Legends” (where they literally grow until sounding like dub) and hints to shoegaze in "Sentimentalist” and to Krautrock and lo-fi noise in "After the Exorcism”; the voice mixing offers three-dimensional explorations in "Crickets” and the great closer "Logging Off” with its weird saxophone solo; the more classic cuts "At Times We Live Alone” and "At a Loss for Words”, sparsely produced, allow the sequencing to unfold flawless through the different steps of the process of fading away from someone you love, while the fantastic string arrangement by Tim Fain on "Lucky Guy” perfectly supports the heartbreaking lyrics dealing with the emotional contradictions of such a process.
As far as pop music is concerned, with all its strengths and limitations, Please is a really consistent record, definitely one of the best from last year, perfectly mixing its expressive content with a much varied approach to sound. And, what is more, Sondre Lerche can be a fantastic showman at times (much like Damon Albarn once again), as he proved during his performance of "Bad Law” at the last Spellemann Awards. He offers the rare example of a songwriter constantly willing to go forward and has perfectly understood the mechanism of pop expressionism. I am really looking forward to hearing what he will bring on next.