Since releasing his first record in 2001 at the age of 19, Sondre Lerche has proven himself as an artist in constant search of growth, particularly with the robust pop of 2007’s Faces Down. On his latest full-length effort, he continues to deliver thoughtful, sophisticated compositions. Recorded in Brooklyn, the wide-eyed Norwegian’s newly adopted home, his sixth album represents starting fresh with this next phase of his life. Along with crossing the Atlantic, he has launched his own label, Mona Records; this album is its inaugural release. In a move typical of debuts, it’s also self-titled. On Sondre Lerche, he continues to bring his winsome singer-songwriter fare into new territories.
On "Coliseum Town", a string section weaves under and over Lerche’s plaintive, muted vocals. It’s a soft, understated kind of beauty – it doesn’t demand listeners’ attentions, it makes a polite request, and the song is all the better for it. With its bright instrumentation, "Private Caller" is the most reminiscent of Faces Down. Early single "Domino" has a building discordance below its surface that shows off Lerche’s subtly eccentric tendencies as he once again applies his golden touch to a diverse variety of influences. He has always been a skilled craftsman, but it’s clear that the change in environment has allowed him to get into previously untapped resources.
Lerche is decidedly adventurous on this album. Not every song hits the bull’s eye, but he always at least lands on the target. His voice is at its best when it’s given a slow-burning warmth, as shown on the haunting "Red Flags", and other approaches can make him seem like he’s not fulfilling his potential. The matter-of-fact delivery on "Go Right Ahead" may sound slightly jarring, but it’s necessary to show off his versatility as a songwriter.
Throughout his career, Lerche has consistently shown a talent for creating a sense of intimacy with his music. While he’s shifted away from the tender love songs that dominated 2009’s Heartbeat Radio, there’s still an appealing vulnerability to his narrative voice. Sondre Lerche’s songs are more likely to navigate social malaise and tackle the confusing side of aging, exemplified by "Living Dangerously". Just as Lerche’s music is concerned with the little details, his lyrics swiftly assess the brief glances and exchanges that can affect relationships of all sorts. It is this balance between intuition and introspection that defines who he is as an artist.
At 28 years old, he may be a young veteran, but Sondre Lerche showcases a performer who has built his career on his commitment to artistry and willingness to embrace change. It’s so intensely personal an album that it may not be as immediate as his previous work, but Lerche clearly has plenty to be proud of. Both old and new fans can look forward to what he comes up with next as his Scandinavian sensibilities continue to take root in New York.
MP3 Stream: "Coliseum Town"