Review: Jeffrey Lewis – A Turn In The Dream-Songs

Jeffrey Lewis is constantly dwelling on his lack of commercial success and his peripheral cult status. I wonder if he’d be happy, though, if he became some huge, award-winning fan-mobbed mainstream-singing-sheep-man. What would he write about? Where would he sit in musicland? No, I get the feeling that he’s perfectly comfortable where he is: adored by many, known by relatively few, critically acclaimed, but not too famous. In fact, I think he’s got it down.
Ever highly self-aware and analytical, Lewis is on characteristically excellent, if slightly tiring, form with his new offering A Turn in the Dream-Songs. Heralded by Jarvis Cocker as ‘the best lyricist working in the US today’, the general formula by which he works often includes wry, comically simple lyrics, with honest and adorably vulnerable corners, whilst being vocally unremarkable and always a bit geeky.
A Turn in the Dream-Songs ducks and dives between simple rock songs played absolutely straight such as How Can It Be, through to ramshackle bluesy numbers like I Got Lost. The uniting factor is Lewis’ unusual vocal which somehow, miraculously, manages to fuse blind enthusiasm with shoulder-shrugging nonchalance from one track to the next, but also, more importantly, his lyrical style. There is a startling trust and hopeful honesty behind his words, refreshingly coupled with a keen sense of humour and a very personal take on the world. Cult Boyfriend dissects his position in the music industry, as he muses, ‘If I’m really all that awesome, wouldn’t more people think so?” Well, loads of people do think so, Jeffrey, so chill out. An artist of juxtapositions and unpredictable moments, his confident delivery is undercut by this ever-present insecurity. Accompanying the more sensible creations are some of the weirdest songs that Lewis has ever penned: one about big bang sludge in Kongu Green Slime, and another about whether or not you take your bag to the toilet with you When You’re By Yourself. Fine.
He is doing something subtly different from his peers, and he revels in it. Veering between painfully self-analytical and enjoying the surreal elements of daily life, this is a captivating and genuinely interesting album. I would recommend it if only because it’s unusual for a singer-songwriter to make you laugh out loud at the ridiculousness that is the world….Silly world.

Anna Byrne