A Turn in the Dream Songs
The sixth album from Jeffrey Lewis is a record of heartbreak, education and his signature self-deprecating humour. The music might be generally softer than on earlier releases and most live shows, but the songs remain versatile and cleverly constructed. Lewis’s live set usually features the standard guitar, drums, bass, and keyboards, while his recorded music offers a more curious concoction of strings, woodwind and mandolin, illustrating his versatility as both a prolific recording and touring artist. In opener ‘To Go and Return’ Lewis introduces layers of delicate and unusual sounds, ending with a meandering sea of discordant strings. This is also demonstrated in the shift back to a more traditional sound as the screeching strings come to a close.
On ‘How Can it Be’ we see his talent for turning absolute blinding heartbreak into blistering pop hits, complete with Phil Spector- style backing vocals. In fact, misery and a sense of loss run through the record, and although it verges on self-pity it never quite gets all the way there. ‘When You’re By Yourself’ takes a rather pragmatic view of single life, tapping into the subtly depressing moments that those in relationships may ignore: “When you’re by yourself in the kitchen/What’s the point of all that shopping and cooking/Sitting and eating and cleaning/So much to do just to eat by yourself.” The mundane, day-to-day hassles of loneliness rarely occupy so much space in a song; it’s not dramatic, but realistic and a little comforting. What prevents Jeffrey Lewis from becoming another moping singer-songwriter whining on about the girl that threw his heart away are his humour and self-awareness. He creates an usual antithesis, balancing introspective lyrics with uptempo pop beats evidenced in ‘How Can It Be’ (“And I know you think I’m crazy and the world thinks it too/But I’m not crazy, it’s just dumb to be alive without you”) and allows crazy thought experiments to run right to the end dedicating a song (‘So What if I Couldn’t Take It’) to the potential ways he could try, fail, and eventually succeed, in killing himself. But he’s not entirely unaware of his worth, or at least the complicated version of it, not only as a potential love interest but also as a somewhat popular musician. ‘Cult Boyfriend’ is the closest the record comes to the live Jeffrey Lewis experience. A more conventional, though thoroughly educational sing-along mixed with a hint of self-effacing humour, exploring the dichotomy of his position as a largely unknown cult icon: “…if I’m really all that awesome wouldn’t more people think so?” Aside from the burning issues of heartbreak and popularity, Lewis, as on previous albums, doesn’t shy away from less conventional lyrical subjects, such as the role of ‘green slime’ (on an earth in a “time before land”) or when rapping about his dark side as a “Mosquito mass murderist” (on ‘Mosquito Rap’).
Although this time round his brother, bandmate and touring partner Jack is conspicuous in his absence (for geographical, rather than creative, differences), A Turn In The Dream Songs by and large stays true to previous Jeffrey Lewis albums, with a careful mix of pop, folk, lyrical prowess, experimental noise, and humour.