Review : Jeffrey Lewis - A Turn in the Dream-Songs
PopmattersIf all is fair in life, then Jeffrey Lewis will one day be Poet Laureate of New York City. Much is made of Lewis’ songwriting prowess (that notable English wit Jarvis Cocker once called him “the best lyricist working in the U.S. today”), so this statement could be considered only mildly outlandish. Still, if Lewis were in contention for the position, we must believe that his songs speak the truth, and, unfortunately, as evidenced on new album A Turn in the Dream-Songs, Lewis is still suffering from plenty of disrespect. The truth hurts, and no one illustrates honesty more colorfully than Lewis.
Lewis’ previous release, 2009’s ‘Em Are I showed a progression in the musical aspect of the anti-folkie’s work. In a recent interview with British newspaper The Guardian, Lewis mentioned that A Turn in the Dream-Songs marks his first foray into writing pop songs, i.e. songs with musical, and not just lyrical, panache. However, songs like “How Can It Be” have groundings in older Lewis material, whether it be ‘Em Are I standout track “Broken Broken Broken Heart” or City and Eastern Songs’ “New Old Friends”. So while Lewis is (thankfully) trying new things, A Turn in the Dream-Songs guarantees much of that homespun Jeffrey Lewis charm, or as much charm as someone with a voice as whiny as Lewis can hold claim to.
“How Can It Be” has the additional allure of backing vocals from Dr. Dog, who gives the song an edge over its predecessors by emphasizing harmony as much as word wizardry. Other songs, such as “Boom Tube,” are even riskier outings for Lewis—they contain neither lyrics nor any quirks that would classify them as anti-folk. It is moments such as these—even more so than lyrical ingenuity—that elevate A Turn in the Dream-Songs above Lewis’ previous efforts.
As for the songwriting, Lewis still remains inventive in both subject matter and finding new ways to address topics like love and depression. Hidden track “Mosquito Mass-Murderist” is a rap (another Lewis first) about killing mosquitoes. “Krongu Green Slime” is essentially a protest song, but its allegorical quality prevents it from becoming too irksome. “Cult Boyfriend” is an album highlight, a wry take on having a love life populated by a few die-hard devotees. Lovably self-deprecating lines such as, “If I really were that awesome, wouldn’t more people think so?” could even compel a few kindred spirits to join OK Cupid on the off chance that Lewis might be a member and is game for comparing self-esteem issues with you. “So What If I Couldn’t Take It” is quite possibly the silliest song about suicide ever, and one that throws in a jab at Pitchfork at that. There are many times in which the album verges on being too truthful for comfort, most notably on “When You’re By Yourself”, which could be an anthem for permanent bachelors and bachelorettes. More hopeful songs, such as “Try It Again”, still retain a bald honesty strong enough to elevate the album from being just alright to something quite special....full text
GuardianAnnouncing its arrival with the trill of a flute, Jeffrey Lewis's sixth album sticks to troubadour territory, though it's peppered with instrumental interludes that sound surprisingly sinister against the quirky oddball-isms. Lewis is at his best when he's showing off his wit and lyrical dexterity. Cult Boyfriend sees him comparing his career with his date-worthiness – "A cult boyfriend's like a record in a bargain bin/ No one knows its worth til a collector comes in" – while When You're By Yourself touches on the important subject of whether to take your bag to the loo when you're eating alone. The fine line between cute and twee is ever present, however, and at times his tendency towards knowing self-assessment can grate. But he's certainly never boring....full text
nitially A Turn in the Dream-Songs plays out as a far less angsty affair than other helpings from New York based musician Jeffrey Lewis. Certainly in recent years he has had something of a prolific output – this latest being his sixth release with the UK label Rough Trade – and the 13 tracks comprising it, recorded onto two-inch analogue tape at Manchester’s Analogue Catalogue studio, show there is little letting up in the talent of our comic book songwriter.
Opener ‘To Go and Return‘ combining the mandolin of Wave Pictures member Franic Rozycki with woodwind accompaniment starts off proceedings with a far more laidback vibe than the urgency of previous works, while follower ‘How Can It Be‘ returns to sophomoric, catchy lyricisms in the form of a break-up song complete with West Coast harmonies. As the record spins out however there are recurring themes of loneliness, friendship (or at least on ‘Try it Again’ of the failure in finding it), growing old, getting lost and suicide. As ever these scenarios are presented in the quirky, often grotesque humour only Lewis knows how to execute with such smirking despair. A botched wrist slitting in ‘So What If I Couldn’t Take It’ leaves our storyteller imagining being encased in a scabbed over bloodied bathtub, while somehow a seemingly banal tale of eating dinner alone in a restaurant leaves an empty sort of feeling thanks to the repetition of lyrics from our protagonist which prove to emulate the rituals and mundane tasks of everyday life.
Comprising the Lewis band on this outing are, alongside Rozycki, members of Johnny Flynn’s backing band The Sussex Wit pitching in on drums, bass and cello; while friends from Dr. Dog, The Vaselines, Au Revoir Simone, Misty’s Big Adventure and Schwervon! assist elsewhere along the trip. It’s a pessimistic cloud with a humourous lining if ever there was one. In ‘Cult Boyfriend’ for example Lewis takes a stab at himself and his hown hispter/cultdom appeal: “If I’m really all that awesome wouldn’t more people think so?” he accuses, completely with Wave Pictures inflected guitar solos.
While for the most part A Turn in the Dream-Songs it is a more restrained and composed recording musically, with the live and energised feel on the full band tracks captured through takes of the musicians playing as one, there is a feeling of disillusionment that runs throughout. We just have to hope this is an adopted persona and not the man himself, though we doubt Jeff Lewis has the time to care how many fans he gains or what rating Pitchfork give him when he’s so busy illustrating for the likes of the History Channel or churning out more tunes like these....full text
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