Sometimes the music gods smile down on us. Take a look at this year's Sasquatch! lineup, for cryin' out loud. Or take a listen to recent releases by Swedish heartthrob Jens Lekman and Midwestern folk visionary Justin Vernon (a.k.a. Bon Iver). Now, take a minute to peruse your calendar: Yes, both of the aforementioned gents are coming to Portland. Thanks, music gods! But wait: Monday, March 24, and...Monday, March 24?! They're coming on the same night.
Rather than pout and ask the ever-rhetorical "Why, gods, why?" perhaps we ought to approach this unmissable-acts conundrum with some sort of logic. First up, we've got Lekman: A slight, dark-haired 27-year-old from Gothenberg who crafts songs that are at once witty, poignant and irresistibly catchy. His latest effort, last year's Night Falls Over Kortedala, is a fucking masterpiece. It ranges from punchy, violin-led tales of failed sibling bonding ("The Opposite of Hallelujah") to über-dramatic Bacharachian love songs ("And I Remember Every Kiss") and sample-pocked, doo wop-addled dance numbers ("Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig").
Besides sounding fantastic, though, Lekman also has a lot to say, be it quirky or wise (usually both). On "Your Arms Around Me," his rich croon sings the praises of his lady's embrace, but the whole scenario begins with Lekman cutting the tip of his finger off while slicing an avocado. On hairstylist ode "Shirin," he sneaks in the clever, lofty-voiced promise: "I won't tell anyone" after asking, "What if it reaches the government, that you have a beauty salon in your own apartment?" And on the title track to his full-length debut, When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog, Lekman offers one of most oddly sweet sentiments I've heard: "When I said I wanted to be your dog/ I wasn't coming on to you/ I just wanted to lick your face/ Lick those raindrops from the rainy days...you're my only friend."
Despite the somber tone of that last lyric, Lekman's sound is mostly sunny. But for those of us who kind of enjoy our own sorrow, Bon Iver might be the appropriate ticket. Bon Iver is the product of one Justin Vernon: a twentysomething Wisconsin native who sports an intimidating scowl and a fuzzy face. As the story goes, Vernon retreated to a cabin in Northwestern Wisconsin to chill, as it were, for the winter (Bon Iver is loose French for "good winter"). Apparently, Vernon can only chop and burn wood for so long before a stunning, cathartic debut pours out of him: The resulting For Emma, Forever Ago (released last month) is nine tracks of sheer beauty—experimental, noise-tinged folk music showcasing Vernon's eerily soulful vocals and equally soul-searching lyrics.
Something like a frostbitten, acoustic TV on the Radio, Bon Iver takes verses like "Someday my pain/ Harness your blame/ Solace my gain" and casts them in a bewitching, Prince-like rasp. On "The Wolves, Act I and II," he employs that haunting croon on an ever-so-slightly vocodered refrain, singing, "What might've been lost," over slowly building guitar, whining brass and percussive noise akin to thunder. It's an exorcism through song. And, despite its personal nature, For Emma resonates. We've all felt surrounded by "wild wolves"; we've all wondered of an ex, "Would you really rush out/ And fall in love?" (the aptly named "Blindsided"); we've all wanted to shout, "Who the hell was I?!" ("Skinny Love"). By escaping civilization, Vernon discovered humanity. Much like the baggage-pyre video for "The Wolves" illustrates, he burns all until morning comes—and delivers us, in turn, with soot-covered hands.
When Lekman poses as a lesbian friend's boyfriend for a family dinner on "A Postcard to Nina," the ultimate message he leaves you (and Nina) with is this: When it comes to love, "don't let anyone stand in your way." But what if, for one night only, that love is split in two?
Lekman's "The Opposite of Hallelujah":
Bon Iver's "Skinny Love":
Jens Lekman plays Monday, March 24, with the Honeydrips and Marla Hansen at Berbati's. 9:30 pm. $12. 21+. Bon Iver plays Monday, March 24, with Phosphorescent and White Hinterland at Holocene. 9 pm. $8. 21+.