Pre-Screening: Sondre Lerche

Album: Heartbeat Radio
Artist: Sondre Lerche
Label: Rounder Records
Due Out: September 8th

As I said the last time we spoke about Sondre Lerche in this space, Dan In Real Life will not be a topic of discussion at any point. Lerche, throughout his eight years in the music industry, has done more than enough to warrant his own discussion, and I don't feel that bringing up that soundtrack is necessary. Whether you like or dislike the movie, his work was appropriate for the film's mood, and was a great touch to the overall aesthetic. Anyway--

Back for the first time since 2007, Lerche has finally combined his different personas into one coherent, and natural iteration. His separate musical personalities, floating between aspects of jazz and mainstream pop-rock, have finally come together under an umbrella all its own. Though one may be quick to compare it all to his non-Faces Down work, as Heartbeat Radiogrows, you'll see that the expertly-infused jazz aspects play a major role as well. Hopefully, it's a welcome and inviting experience for fans of both Lerche brands.

We start with "Good Luck," a bright and budding, yet easy listen. It builds slowly amidst the rock and jazz background, guiding you quietly into what I immediately knew was a special effort. What makes this track, maybe the poster child for the overall sound, so attractive is probably the fact that it never over-commits to one sound or another. You know where the song's going, but I can't say you're ever overwhelmed by a melody which leans on one genre too much over another. As will be the theme here, the jazz and pop-rock aspects marry themselves perfectly throughout, for moments both emotional and sentimental. Next, lead single, "Heartbeat Radio" bops in for a a back-and-forth game between acoustic guitar and strings. The female vocals also do a lot towards magnifying Lerche's smooth, smoky voice, completing the aforementioned balancing act which never falls off throughout. "I Cannot Let You Go" seemingly slows us down a bit, before hopping right back into the up-tempo scenery established at the album's onset. Though Lerche's songs are always touched with a bit of heartache, this is one of the most outward appearance here, yet by his standards, is still fairly subtle.

Lerche throws in his first ballad of sorts, with "Like Lazenby." It's a lazy waltz, as his words dance off the expertly-executed orchestration, and he puts on display the full range of his voice, much to the listener's advantage. Immediately after though, one might be a bit surprised. "If Only" plays on the type of hip-hop influenced pop which Jason Mraz has perfected over the years, employing electronics amid its jovial, and experimental four minutes or so. There's also some kid vocals, which I suddenly can't get enough of in music today (the last words you read of this before leaving, I'm sure). And then we're shifted abruptly once more. "Pioneer" is slow, short and to the point-- a sort of sad, romantic ode to love and sorrow meant to provide respite from the rest of the fast-moving songs around it. "Easy to Persuade" picks us right back up, trading quick vocals and percussion off with surprisingly spacious guitar melodies. It's tracks like this one that have me so impressed with Heartbeat Radio. Lerche openly embraces sounds outside of his usual comfort zone, and the results are some successful experimentation, and a lot of enjoyable heartfelt sentiment in the mold of most of his material. It's a flawless combination.

"Words & Music," with a little more edge, could probably be confused with anything by Spoon. Of all the love-oriented pieces Lerche has put together, this is easily the most playful, and most nostalgic. For some reason, it's got me thinking of 1950s Hollywood movie musicals, and by the end, you'll probably feel similarly. "I Guess It's Gonna Rain Today" is another slower number, as his choice of instrumentation lends to the theme perfectly, conveying an image of a dreary street, and a mind full of thoughts. Next, "Almighty Moon" deceptively sounds like the end, but rather, is simply the begin of that same finale. What starts a bit moody turns sarcastically bright, as Lerche croons over increasingly-daring backing parts. "Don't Look Now," instead of continuing in this vein, evolves into a different animal altogether, as a herky-jerky pop number alluding to mind games and casual criticisms. This brings us to the only way he could possibly bring Heartbeat Radio to a true close, "Goodnight." Lerche always reminds me of a guy constantly on some sort of romantic evening while trying to impress a woman, so it works. Maybe it's a final plea for love as said woman walks away, but he succeeds in conveying desire while not seeming desperate; a tough task, but effective nonetheless.

Heartbeat Radio could very well end up being the landmark release for Lerche's career, or maybe it's just the beginning of an evolution in his sound. Either way though, it's importance has been noted. Lerche doesn't necessarily do anything new for music. We've seen jazz and pop-rock infused at various points throughout indie rock/alternative, but he's evolved his own sound, which can always score you points in my book. The tracks exude a confidence lacking on previous releases, and the perfect marriage of genres he's created further enhance this image. No longer can he file himself away in the contemporary crowd, Lerche has now brought himself into the forefront of singer-songwriter indie rock. Though more sentimental than his peers, I think it works to his advantage, and hopefully others take notice as well. For similarities, check out the aforementioned Spoon, Andrew Bird and Stars.

Rating: 8.0/10

Best Track: "Heartbeat Radio"

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