An artist's capability to transform suffering into great work is one of humanity's great phenomena. When considering the "divorce" subcategory of suffering and the "music" subcategory of art, the manifestation has traditionally tended toward the dirge (e.g. Dylan's "Blood On The Tracks," Mitchell's "Blue"). "Please," Sondre Lerche's stunning new album, however, is a different animal: despite aligning with a recent divorce from his wife of eight years, it is brimming with crisp electronic flourishes, bold, economic production, and an infectious new energy and sense of purpose.
The juxtaposition of romantic idealism and the chaotic struggle to live up to said ideals is meticulously explored: for the first time in his career, Lerche is presented unraveled. The moans and wails are unedited, and the cutting room floor is clean. The first evidence of this (on opener and first single "Bad Law") is Lerche's witty self-awareness as his voice cracks while singing "it all sounds unlikely...."
Lerche has always written about love, but never in such a primal, sexual way. Lerche's well-proven melodic instincts are sharper than ever, but he's moved from the brain to the body, from the soulful to the physical.
A recurring theme is control -- or lack thereof -- often symbolized by hands. "Held on to you / almost held my own," (Lucky Guy). "I'm not holding on to innocence," (After The Exorcism). "You were under my thumb," (Logging Off). "My defense scrawled on my hand," (Bad Law). "Cut off my hand as I reached for the fire," (Crickets). We are watching Lerche deal with the loss of control that results from embracing total honesty and self-exposure.
"Bad Law" establishes Lerche's vocal vulnerability and struggle with control, but also establishes another theme that runs throughout the record: the darkness that rises when love and law collide, building to the musing, "When crimes are passionate, can love be separate?" Later, in "At Times We Live Alone," Lerche revisits this theme with the clever double entendre of "commit": both committing a crime and committing to a relationship.
A perennially optimistic and love-laden writer, Lerche takes a much different route on standouts such as the heartbreaking "Sentimentalist": "Tying the knot...Dying to not rot...I'm no sentimentalist," a rumination that recalls Kurt Cobain's "married...buried."
Lerche doesn't just transform his suffering into art on "Please" -- which was recorded between his hometown of Bergen and Brooklyn, his home-of-nine-years -- he shows us how he's doing it. Trying to see things from every possible angle, he sings "say it to yourself in a different voice" ("Crickets"). The multi-layered vocal arrangement sounds as if we're simultaneously hearing several different Sondres arriving at the same dead end. This search for understanding continues in "At Times We Live Alone." It's unclear as to whether he's addressing himself or his subject when he repeats the mantra-like, "Try 'I love you,' try 'get angry,' try 'go fuck off,' call a friend.'" These short-lived solutions are futile and in vain. The struggles themselves become the songs.
Lerche has been incredibly busy since the release of his 2011 self-titled LP and his 2012 live album, "Bootlegs." Aside from touring internationally and releasing his 2013 Scott Walker-cover "The Plague" and "Public Hi-Fi Sessions," a collaboration with Spoon's Jim Eno, Lerche spent 2013 creating the celebrated score for his then-wife's (Mona Fastvold) directorial debut and Sundance hit "The Sleepwalker."
At once both Lerche's catchiest and most emotionally intricate offering, "Please" is an altogether different kind of divorce-record, a masterful work unlike anything he has crafted before.