Sondre Lerche Faces Down

Sondre Lerche Faces Down
Certain very talented artists spring from their formative years like old souls, as if predisposed to absorb several decades worth of music history, filtering it through their experience to form a vision that is familiar, yet their own. Norwegian pop songwriter Sondre Lerche is one, and this 19-year-old has emerged with an amazing debut that merges a sensitive voice that recalls Rufus Wainwright and a poignant pen that draws lines from Badly Drawn Boy and Elvis Costello to Burt Bacharach and Steely Dan. When Lerche had a songwriting burst in 1999 — writing most of the remarkable Faces Down in just a few months, at age 16 — he recorded two songs ("Dead Passengers” and "No One’s Gonna Come”) before he approached a record company seeking a deal. "[I wanted] the record company to know exactly what they were getting,” Lerche says matter-of-factly. "I didn’t want to start off with a grumpy record company that didn’t know what I was up to.” What he’s up to is only one of the best pop albums of the year, bar none, much less any debut by a teenager. His confidence is strong enough to seek help from a hero — the High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan arranges strings on three songs — but it’s born of hard work. "I think there are so many really terrible songs out there. And there are a lot of good artists that write average, really obvious songs that don’t take you anywhere, and if they do, they take you to a bad place. I focus mainly on the melodies and the harmonies — they have to be exciting all the time.” Faces Down isn’t always exciting — it too often surfs mellow soft pop to warrant that description — but it is charming and lovely, memorable and instantly familiar, yet distinct. Most artists never get there; for Lerche, it’s his jumping off spot for a follow-up he’s already recording, a continuation of his successful formula — the song is equal to the choices you make. "If you take the first thing you come across when you sit down with a guitar, you really shouldn’t write songs at all,” he says earnestly. "Unless every time you strike the guitar it’s genius. Then you’re quite lucky. And I’m no genius.” No yet, anyway. Give him a couple of years. (Astralwerks)