Sondre Lerche


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By Bill DeMain  

Randy Newman once described his music, half-jokingly, as "a branch of Homo Sapiens that didn't become Homo Sapiens. Homo Erectus. It just died out."

This quote came to mind when I first heard Sondre Lerche (pronounced SAWN-der LAIR-kay). On his second album, the twenty-one-year old Norwegian seems to be retracing the footsteps of Paddy McAloon and Roddy Frame. If you don't recognize those names, it's because they were Homo Erecti of the '80s, leaders of UK pop bands Prefab Sprout and Aztec Camera, respectively. Both were fond of mixing jazzy pop and a university student's high-minded aesthetic into a refined style that tended to divide listeners into love/hate camps.

Lerche seems especially smitten with McAloon, in that he's not afraid of four-syllable words, diminished chords, changing time signatures and 0-90 mph dynamics. He even does those interesting phrases where he'll break words in two with dramatic pauses. There's oddly touching wordplay, reminiscent of Prefab, such as this from the title track:

We were chasing rabbits on the hill
And that prairie-life was great, but never real
'Cause we never saw no rabbits out there,
ever, no, not once
All we did was put a fire up and watch it burn for months

All that aside, I don't think Lerche is bound for extinction (McAloon and Frame are still making records, after all). He's a natural melody writer and singer, and his particular evolutionary twist is to let a youthful exuberance (and for the girls, a Tiger Beat-ready face) distract you from the complexities and quirks in his music. As Mary Poppins once prescribed, "A spoonful of sugar."

Once you acquire a taste for these songs, you may find them irresistible. If you're on a listening station or digital player, start with instantly appealing tracks like the wistful country picker "Stupid Memory" or the starlit ballad "It's Over," then graduate to the more ambitious "On The Tower" and "Track You Down."

One of the best things about today's hybrid-rich music scene is that Homo Erectus (and other Darwinian bit players) can live side by side with Homo Sapiens. Don't be afraid of Sondre Lerche. He's just like you and me... but different.

Musician and journalist Bill DeMain writes frequently about music. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Entertainment Weekly, MOJO, and Musician.