Sondre Lerche's last album, Heartbeat Radio, paired the Norwegian singer-songwriter's melodic pop tunes with ill-fitting orchestral arrangements, making for a mess of a record. His new, eponymous set is a definite course correction, with a stripped-down production style that allows Lerche's strong hooks and distinctive tenor to take center stage.
Lead single "Private Caller" is Lerche's catchiest should-be hit to date, scurrying along to steady, insistent acoustic guitar chords until Lerche lapses into an unexpected falsetto as he charges headlong into the song's hook. "Go Right Ahead" is even better: Lerche isn't necessarily known for snark, but he delivers "Go Right Ahead" as one long, sarcastic dare, comparing the aftermath of a breakup with a girl whose name "isn't crucial" to an "ice cream headache." It sounds like a cheery pop song on the surface, but it's deliciously bitter in a way that Lerche's songs rarely have been. It's indicative of the album as a whole: There's simply more personality behind the writing on Sondre Lerche than on his earlier albums.
Lerche and co-producers Kato Ådland and Nicolas Verhnes wisely keep the focus on the quality of the songwriting. The first few bars of "Ricochet," with just its simple acoustic guitarwork and Lerche's hushed vocal performance, opens the record on a subdued note that suggests Sondre Lerche will be yet another iteration of the tired indie troubadour album. But the song's evocative images elevate it into something of real substance. Likewise, "Never Mind the Typos" and "Living Dangerously" are idiosyncratic in ways that are relatively subtle and likable. Lerche doesn't use quirk as a crutch in his songwriting, and that makes his songs a refreshing departure from those of so many of his peers.
More than a decade removed from his turn as a 19-year-old Next Big Thing, Lerche continues to refine his craft. Moreover, Lerche is smart enough to realize what went haywire on his last record and to make the right adjustments. It may not be the most exciting or innovative record, but Sondre Lerche emphasizes all of the artist's strengths, making it far and away his most mature album to date.