Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Sondre Lerche -- Two Way Monologue
Astralwerks; 2004

Much like a fine wine, cheese, and records (to hipsters, at least), Sondre Lerche has only gotten better over time. The young singer/songwriter from Norway released his first album and major label debut, Faces Down, at the tender age of 19 in 2002. Now 21 years old, Lerche is a bit more worldly and wise, the results of which are found on his sophomore album, Two Way Monologue.

Lerche has always seemed to be more mature than his years would suggest. While many artists at the age of 19 were still figuring out how to emulate their idols without being caught red-handed, he was writing full-on chamber pop gems and swoon-worthy acoustic ballads. Two Way Monologue takes over where Faces Down left off, showcasing both his musical talent and skill for writing lush backgrounds.

While the backing arrangements Lerche crafted for Faces Down dabbled in psychedelica and Latin-tinged rhythms, Two Way Monologue expresses his profound love for Nick Drake's regal baroque writing. "Love You" is an exquisite instrumental that opens the album like the ornate cover of a book -- heavy with hazy strings, mellow guitar and swells of French horn. "Days That Are Over" starts with a single swaying organ line and expands to pings of keyboard dancing around a flirting guitar and hits from the laid back percussion section. "It's Too Late" is the album's most intricate track, perfectly expressing how Lerche can fit everything from xylophone to keyboard wiggles into a song without making it needlessly overbearing.

Just as with his knack for writing, Lerche's expressive voice sounds more seasoned than one would expect of a 21 year old. A touch of Lennon, a dash of Cohen and a smidge of youth, Lerche's warm pipes have a familiar quality about them, like a friend one hasn't seen in awhile stopping by unexpectedly. Unlike the few vocal bumbles of Faces Down, the pitch control on such octave-reaching songs as "Stupid Memory" and "It's Over" shows that Lerche has learned to harness his amiable croon.

The lyrics Lerche sings on Two Way Monologue are nearly as charming as the voice he sings them with. "Track You Down" tells the tale of lovers gone their separate ways ("We often joke it's over but it's never enough") reuniting by chance ("I saw you, you saw me /And you were naked, which was weird"), only to part once again ("But in that space in time we played the strangers again"). Lerche even acknowledges the stumbling block English can be for him on "On the Tower," his honesty coming through as an endearing trait.

Truly there are very few low spots on Two Way Monologue, the only real exception being the odd "Wet Ground." Lerche sounds uncharacteristically froggy and frazzled, and the backing vocals come off too quirky to mesh well with the somber pace of the track. If nothing else, it gives the listener a view of just how good the rest of the album is.

For a guy that writes and performs like he's been at it for thirty years, Sondre Lerche seems to have never heard of the sophomore slump. He's created a fresh platter of baroque and indie pop delicacies that only evince improvement from his debut. Two Way Monologue is an uplifting and enjoyable release and a great achievement for the wise beyond his years Lerche.

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