Pretty much every major city has an "easy listening" station playing soft rock classics to get you through the work day — typically an anemic blend of lighter-than-air pseudo rock. Such stations promulgate a sense that mainstream music that is easy on the ears and fails to fall concretely into one of the prescribed Soundscan categories is, by definition, castoff mediocrity good for little aside from background noise for the banality of cubicle life. Sondre Lerche is proof that "easy listening" doesn't have to mean dull.
Certainly, few would make the stretch to call the young Norwegian a rocker, considering the breezy character of much of his music, but he has somehow managed to wheedle his way into the ears and hearts of rock fans across a wide range of demographics, from the idealized hipsters of Pitchfork nation to aging college rockers. Where you don't find Lerche is on the playlists of stations who purport to play just the kind of music at which he excels.
With jazzy flourishes and clear roots in the kind of American standard music perfected by the likes of Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond and even Andy Williams, Lerche is uncommonly capable of making music that stands largely apart from the tribulations of genre-fication. Lerche possesses a keen ear for melody and a voice that manages to be sweet but not cloying, familiar but not commonplace, and emotive without falling prey to the pitfalls of sentimentality. String sections frequent his arrangements, as do brass orchestrations, adding classicism and earthiness to the nearly ethereal feeling that informs much of his work.
In 2007, Lerche decided to play rough and tumble with the easy-going motif on the aptly titled Phantom Punch. The result is an intriguing foray into the notion of pop versus rock music. Boasting the fervent, impassioned impetus of "primitive" sounds as his primary motivation, Lerche nonetheless couched his sonic abandon in the language of pop, adding a very deliberate attention to melody and structure to the would-be wildness of the album's rocky edge. It's hard to decide if it constitutes a rock album for pop listeners, or vice-versa. Either way, it stands as an interesting aside, sort of a conspiratorial whisper to the audience that things don't have to be either/or.
Lerche's music has always managed to feel like it's on the verge of rock, even while saturated in cellos and jazzy chord progressions. Of course, this demi-chameleon quality is part of what enables Lerche to cross gaps, both generational and cultural, in finding an audience. He's a comfortable way for the self-conscious rocker to indulge his oft ignored penchant for pop modes, and a likewise amenable way for those whose tastes veer inherently toward the lighter side to get a much needed dose of oomph. That Lerche manages to do this all with such subtlety, leaving few obvious traces that the listener has fallen prey to this kind of sonic switch, is testament to the man's abilities to craft enduring music, regardless what you choose to call it. Now if someone could only convince all those "Easy Listening" stations to put Lerche on their rotations or, better yet, to model their playlists on him.
Nice piece, Jim.
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