Sondre Lerche has come a long way. His first album, the hypnotically sweet and strangely sinister Faces Down, dropped a decade ago, when Lerche was just 18. Now, at 28, releasing his self-titled sixth album, he’s managed to retain most of what made him so appealing ten years ago while attempting to apply his newfound maturity to his sound.
Perhaps it’s the American influence – born in Norway, this is the first album he has recorded in his adopted hometown of Brooklyn – but in many ways it seems as though Lerche has lost a little of what was so special about him, that weird, ghostly boy-wail so prominent in his earlier albums. In the past, Lerche’s songs were immediately recognizable as his own a few bars in – on this album, it takes until the chorus, if they’re obviously his at all. In fact, the first song on the album that really sounds like him to our ears is the third one, “Red Flags,” a traditional pop song sweetened by Lerche’s trademark honey warble.
That’s not to say that Lerche isn’t making great pop music. The songwriting is, as always, phenomenal – Lerche has crafted a series of insanely intricate pop gems, making complicated music sound simple and comfortable, though under any scrutiny it’s clearly deeply considered. Opener “Ricochet” starts off sparse, a gentle ebb and flow tugging at the heartstrings, before building into a heavy, clanging finish, and the confrontational “Go Right Ahead” is a departure from Lerche’s usual oeuvre in a good way, a little skip in his step and a saucy attitude cropping up in his lyrics. Stripped down, tinny “Tied Up to the Tide” approaches that old Elliott Smith style of despair hidden in stretched electric guitar, showcasing Lerche’s experimental musicianship while betraying his musically traditionalist leanings.
All in all, the album feels like the slightest bit bloodless, the older, wiser Lerche a little less than the yearning teenager we once knew. However, for fans of sparse Norwegian melodies and beautiful, gentle pop, perhaps a little clinical perfection goes a long way.