Sondre Lerche: Phantom Punch

Over the past couple of weeks Norwegian romantic pop prodigy Sondre Lerche’s latest effort "Phantom Punch" has been thoroughly reviewed by American media. He has a substantial stateside following, and the connoisseurs of pop love to write about him, for his sophistication caters to theirs. The reception has been mixed though, with different takes on his venture into rock, but the overall sentiment seems to be one of great admiration and respect for an artistic undertaking which is rare in its subtlety.

Sondre Lerche 2007

Phantom Punch, released in the states on Feb. 6th and due for European release in the course of the month, is Lerche’s fourth album. And apparently it is his first major deviation in style approaching, as it is, the realm of rock. But straight forward; no that it is not. This is not three chord tug and release. It is more like a Tom Wolfe in the army; butch in appearance but not in content.

So the punch may be phantom, but Lerche is still drunk from it, it seems: he has substituted his lush, string-swept musical signature –reminiscent of a bottle green country club soiree- with dirtier characters: punks, and swaying drunks and rockers: a less self-important crowd. He is definitely trying to sidestep himself into simplicity. And the album has been advertised as an attempt towards a decidedly more primitive sound. But does it work?

Stylus magazine thinks so, professing that: “Lerche has found a way successfully to bestride the line between technically proficient deliberateness and his latent propulsive “punk” rock tendencies.” And Stylus’ apparently dedicated Lerche fan finds in his critic’s hat such linguistic necklaces (sic.) as (Lerche’s being a) “frighteningly sophisticated approach to songcraft.

These are grand and strange words, and they underline the general feeling that Lerche is able to toy with his critics; to lure them into a mirror house where he himself withdraws among the reflections; leaving them thus in uncertainty. His sophistication has become a signature which it seems difficult to disregard (“Lerche’s jazzy melodic zest”) even when a critic, such as Pitchfork’s, finds that Phantom Punch is in fact a rather ill conceived record:
“It’s nice to hear Lerche again seeking his own muse. If only it didn’t come out sounding so much like everybody else’s”.

Other voices are more charitable, not just to his sophistication but also to its direction, like Pop Matters claiming that: “Watching his repertory arc is seeing a style in progress.”

What is beyond dispute is that at the Age of 24 Sondre Lerche is in the privileged situation of being closely scrutinized by the most influential voices of music. And what’s more, he seems to retain the upper hand; his slightly bewildering and nonchalant subtlety, which seems to bypass concrete complaints such as nonsensical lyrics or substandard “rock navigation.”

His breezy and blasé enterprise soars above such matters, like an elusive Gatsby. And perhaps that is the highest objective for a pop nonchalant; to transcend the popularity, i.e. the “of-the-people-ness” of pop, substituting it with Oscar Wildeian wit, while still retaining the youthful casing?

This weekend Lerche will strut his riffs at the by:Larm festival in Trondheim, Norway’s punk rock capital, an intriguing setting indeed…

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