Sondre Lerche, sometimes jazz crooner and pop innovator, has laid his heart bare throughout his career. His personal lyrics and experimental sounds often find themselves in a tenuous balancing act, giving us just enough edge to sing along on songs like “Sleep on Needles” and “Heartbeat Radio,” yet making one feel that every pop hook has a smirk behind it. This ironic facade is painfully aware of the unreality of the pop music world, and how it lures and traps listeners and artists alike into its devilish snare, making us believe that love, happiness, and endless summer days are not only possible, but just beyond our outstretched fingertips. We all want to fill that void inside of us, and the music industry capitalizes on our neverending desires.
Behind Sondre’s melodic facade there has always been a dissonance, a white noise, some sort of low throbbing feedback below the glittery pop surface. That’s where the artist has slept, half submerged in water, dreaming pop dreams while observing the frailty and absurdity of human relationships – the insanity that drives us mad when relationships implode, depression and anxiety ever-present and threatening to suffocate us at any moment.
This feeling is brought bubbling to the surface on Sondre’s latest album, “Pleasure” amidst retro synth sounds that hearken back to the excess and glam of the 80s. In his video for the single “Soft Feelings,” the singer travels through various scenes, mostly solo, sometimes shivering on the beach or stretching on a sunny hilltop, as he sings about his ambivalent feelings for a possible lover. “Soft feelings for you that I struggle with,” Lerche croons as he chugs Coronas and sings karaoke, the isolation and dissonance omnipresent as we watch him wander L.A. without story or purpose.
Throughout the video, one is left to wonder what Lerche wants and needs, and whether he is releasing this frustration or just lost inside of it. Our protagonist is either letting go or going mad as he screams on top of a hill and runs along the street, or when his body lays naked and motionless on the pavement. The answer isn’t apparent, only the existential dread and the gnawing sense of meaninglessness behind society’s veil.
In another video, this one for “I’m Always Watching You,” a voyeuristic Lerche watches a woman from his window, this object of desire and passion just across the street in another building. Slanted light falls on his piercing eyes as he sings:
“I feel so stupid and spun-out and spoiled
All of my deficits unmasked
This game is torture but it’s all I’ve got
Since I got what I asked”
It feels like Lerche has his finger on the pulse of the absurdity of human existence, singing without filter about his own experiences with the dark side of love and desire. Although some may be turned off by the song’s apparent creepiness, delving deeper into “I’m Always Watching You” exposes the raw and filter-less side of Lerche’s songwriting, one that wants to battle and expose the most alienating and isolating parts of modern society. In this great drama, Lerche is playing the outsider, painting a scene of lust spurred on by technology and thoughts that spin wildly out of control: “Cellphone’s a weapon of surveillance, all the distractions that I don’t need.”
Regardless of the message underneath, this is a dance pop album, one that’s a whole lot of fun if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics. Powerful synths and soft tones reflect the fantasies of club goers on some hypothetical South Beach drag, stars in their eyes as they celebrate and dance in spite of the uncertainty and fear of everyday life. “I want to be above this state of mind, even though my hidden shame is now my greatest pride. I want to turn male privilege on its head, even though without it I’d probably be dead.” Lerche sings on “Reminisce” over a driving beat and ecstatic rows of synth atmosphere. He knows his life is full of paradox, and seems intent to go on despite the absurdity of existing in all these concepts, ironies, and half-truths as an individual looking for love, connection, and fulfillment.
“Pleasure” is an album that will undoubtedly soundtrack this upcoming summer, a season when expectations and desire will attempt to hypnotize the masses with sweet tones and melodic hooks. In the craze and flurry of the music scene, though, Lerche’s album stands out as unique, self-aware, and intellectually stimulating pop music, one that might make us stop a minute to ponder our lives as we dance to its infectious beat.