The phrase “Ba-ba-ba baa-ba…” is the essence of pop. From The Troggs’ “With A Girl Like You” to the Pepsi song (awful, yes, but unforgettable), the main competitor to the Ba is the Na, a relationship that could engage a senior essay, or maybe a VH1 special. The Ba references a sort of bopping rhythm, hummable melodies, youth. And Sondre Lerche is one boppy melodic manipulator. In “Counter Spark,” snuggled beautifully in the middle of “Two Way Monologue,” “Ba-ba-ba baa-ba” is arguably the best lyric of a well-crafted song, and perhaps of the album. It conveys the emotions of youthful infatuation by softening the smartness, thereby epitomizing the overall feeling of “Two Way Monologue.” As warm and fuzzy as pop songs can be, Lerche is smart pop: intellectual, a touch detached, lush and complicated. For his sophomore album at the ripe age of twenty-one, he’s managed to balance sophistication with fuzziness. The result is lovely.
The album opens with an instrumental number, beneath which is a layer of conversation, somewhat like a cocktail-party track equivalent to the party in Weezer’s “Undone — The Sweater Song.” Strings soar upward from sweetness into a frenzied climax, suddenly halting. “Down came the sky,” sings Sondre, and calm is restored with “Track You Down.” This song wears a little on the listener after its initial glow, but Lerche doesn’t get stuck, switching to a very Beatle-esque mode with “On the Tower.” “Days That Are Over” is also evocative of the Beatles, but if Lerche is more McCartney than Lennon, he manages to neatly avoid Paul’s prettiness —- perhaps because of the flatness of his voice, which is outright scratchy on “Wet Ground.”
The first track of the album and the title track, “Two Way Monologue” is the most innovative. Beginning with a guitar and his own vocals, as he does on several tracks, Lerche is intriguing, but also more sardonic and argumentative, and all the better for it. The slightly nonsensical lyrics (“– All the other options that you had in mind starve me / ‘Cause I’m optionless and turkey-free and blind”) are addressed to “Mum” and “Pa,” resulting in a schizophrenic feeling that amplifies along with the layers of sound. This is a lot of fun to listen to with headphones, as all sorts of little squeaks and knocks come from every direction.
Another favorite is the hoppity “Stupid Memory,” whose pedal steel seems like a nod to Beck. The vocals bring to mind the adolescent ballads of Travis, pleasant in their small dosage but fortunately not prominent on the album. Unfortunately, I became so enamored of certain tracks that I couldn’t force myself to listen to two of the last three tracks straight through, and the last has “album finale” written all over it. It simply cannot stand on its own.
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