Album Reviews

Jeffrey Lewis – A Turn In The Dream-Songs

(Rough Trade) UK release date: 10 October 2011

There’s a song about halfway through A Turn In The Dream-Songs that could be said to be the quintessential Jeffrey Lewis song. In its breakneck two and a half minutes, it namechecks punk band The Misfits, the film Meet The Feebles, JG Ballard, comic books, indie radio stations and it’s called Cult Boyfriend. As the payoff line goes: “If I’m really all that awesome, wouldn’t more people know?”

For Jeffrey Lewis is possibly the very definition of a cult artist. His songs are lo-fi “anti-folk” numbers about subjects as diverse as the correct way to shoot a zombie or a sprawling nightmare fantasy about being sexually assaulted by Will Oldham. He once recorded an album entirely consisting of cover versions of songs by the anarcho-punk band Crass. And he’s a prolific comic-book illustrator, often using his illustrations as props in his live show.

And yet, as heartwarming and delightful as Lewis can be, he remains a resolutely cult concern. It’s unsurprising, really – he pays no notion to ideas of commerciality (this album was recorded on two-inch analogue tape) and half-sings, half-speaks in a croaky, reedy voice that could accurately be described as an acquired taste.

However, like those other two unconventional vocalists, Morrissey and David Gedge, it’s impossible to imagine these songs being delivered in any other way than Lewis’. Even a song like Try It Again, which in anyone else’s hands could be a radio-friendly hit, is more lo-fi folk than glossy and commercial. Yet, none of this is remotely offputting or unlistenable – instead, like most of Lewis’ back catalogue, there’s a ramshackle charm here that works beautifully.

Lyrically, he’s moved away from the more personal issues that were tormenting him on his last album ‘Em Are I, although there are still some serious subjects touched upon. As well as the hilariously self-referential Cult Boyfriend, there’s a six-minute tale about failed suicide bids (So What If I Couldn’t Take It Anymore), a meditation on the nature of solitude (When You’re By Yourself) and a desperately sad tale of mental breakdown in I Got Lost.

There’s plenty of guest spots too – Johnny Flynn‘s group The Sussex Wit act as the backup band, and there are appearances from various members of The Wave Pictures and Misty’s Big Adventure.

As ever with Lewis, there are flaws here. In common with most of his other albums, he could do with an editor – at 15 tracks long, and about an hour in running time, it starts to all sound a bit samey towards the end of the record. There are a couple of tracks that could be described as filler, especially the minute long blasts of ambient noise – although the closing track, Mosquito Mass Murderer, does give us the surprisingly successful spectacle of Lewis rapping about trying to kill insects.

It’s all very Jeffrey-Lewis-esque in fact – another entertaining album from a man determined to cling to his cult status as long as possible.

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More on Jeffrey Lewis
Jeffrey Lewis – A Turn In The Dream-Songs
Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – ‘Em Are I
Jeffrey Lewis @ Windmill, London
Jeffrey Lewis – 12 Crass Songs