That modern culture has a particular fascination with coming-of-age is hardly a new observation. The perennial popularity of The Catcher in the Rye, the clamor over Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and mainstream pop music’s obsession with teenagers are just a handful of examples. What seems to be missing in this particular body of art is the second, or third, coming of age as we all live longer and change careers anywhere from 3 to 7 times (the average for Americans). The expectation that coming-of-age only happens once seems to be ignorant of the modern experience of adulthood.
Sondre Lerche’s music documents not only the maturation of a musician, but of himself. Lerche recorded his first album, Faces Down, when he was eighteen and released it in his native Norway in 2001 and in the United States in 2002. Across eight LPs, he’s progressed from jazz-influenced rock pop on his debut, to jazz on Duper Sessions (2006), 80s pop and new wave on 2007’s Phantom Punch, and indie pop of Please (2014). And now there’s Pleasure, a swerve in another sonic direction or the result of a long musical maturation, depending on how you look at it.
Sondre Lerche sees the synth-heavy, 80s-flavored electropop of much of Pleasure as a natural progression: “I’m driven by appetite and curiosity, so to me any shift feels like a very natural thing. But the time my audience hears any new music I’ve made, I’ve been through such a long process of trial and error, rewriting, remixing and editing, that it’s all just a part of my musical vocabulary,” he said. “The most important thing to me is that the music gives me what I need to understand myself and the phase I am going through.”
That particular phase started with Please, a break towards a more dissonant, rock sound from that of his previous two albums, Sondre Lerche (2011) and Heartbeat Radio (2009). It also marked a major shift in Lerche’s life, his 2013 divorce from his wife Mona Fastvold, which Please chronicled. The process of making Please overlapped with Pleasure as some songs that didn’t make the cut on the first found their way onto the second. Meanwhile, Lerche found himself exploring clubs and the dance floor and the meaning of masculinity both in and out of the studio. He explained, “It’s a very physical record, and it feels like the record the connects the head and the body. Which is why the album fixates a lot on physical objects, as well as pleasure. It’s about things that just exist in the here and now, for better or worse. And it deals with the idea or expectation of masculinity. It’s the first time I’ve been able to express and integrate sexuality explicitly in my music — for me that’s been so hard for so long. But now I’ve gone through some things that have helped me better understand myself, and that comes through in the music, naturally.”
That physicality is apparent in every component of the album, from the cover art, to Lerche and his band’s experience of playing the songs, to audiences’ reactions. “It just feels good to add some really bombastic, dramatic and instant songs to the set—the new songs recontextualize the older songs in a way, so it’s energizing for the set and us, and the audience,” he explained. “It’s really fun to play music that make[s] people consider dancing.”
Pleasure is carefree and fleeting in a way that Lerche’s music has rarely been before. It’s a new lease on musical life, that captures Lerche’s coming into himself anew, which begs the question of where this evolution will take him next. Lerche was coy when asked about the future: “I’m deep into something new, because usually by the time the album comes out, it means I’ve transitioned to a new phase, on an emotional level, and so new ideas and desires open up. But I don’t wanna spoil the surprise. I wanna savor the pleasure a little longer.”
Sondre Lerche plays the Sinclair on April 12. Doors open at 7:30.