4:36pm

Mon October 31, 2011
Music Reviews

Jeffrey Lewis: Cosmic And Tongue-In-Cheek 'Dream-Songs'

Originally published on Wed November 9, 2011 8:38 pm

Jeffrey Lewis is my homeboy. The prolific anti-folk singer-songwriter has lived less than a mile from where I live on the Lower East Side since he was born in 1975. Difference is, I moved to Avenue B as an adult, while he's a native — his dad is a Brooklyn-born motorcycle mechanic who hung with local politicos and musicians.

As a hereditary hippie, Lewis has always dug songs that drift off in vaguely Buddhist notions of existential displacement and eternal recurrence. So several of the tracks that lead off his new album, A Turn in the Dream-Songs, are way dreamier than a hard-headed interloper like me would prefer. But the music picks up while remaining dreamy at track five, the idealistic yet realistic "Time Trades."

Lewis is often funny and sometimes fanciful — the lifetime bohemian as likable supernerd, neurotic and vulnerable in a rather universal way. The new album includes a touching description of eating alone after you've been dumped, a gangsta-folk bonus track about massacring mosquitoes, slapstick about failing at suicide, and a personal manifesto called "Cult Boyfriend."

Adding to Lewis' draw as a cult boyfriend is his status as a cult multitalent — in addition to publishing his own comic books, he illustrates his own CD packages and lectures on the graphic novel The Watchmen. But his songs come first, and in those songs the lyrics come first.

A Turn in the Dream-Songs' six-minute master track, "Krongu Green Slime," is a dystopian yet tongue-in-cheek reflection on consumerism, evolution, mortality and the tiny place of life itself in the cosmos. It's universal to the max, covering 10 zillion years and counting. On the Lower East Side, that's how we roll.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Weird, inspiring, bizarre and brilliant are all words that critics have used to describe Jeffrey Lewis. His new album is called "A Turn in the Dream-Songs."

And our music critic, Robert Christgau, says he feels a special bond with the singer/songwriter.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: Jeffrey Lewis is my home boy. He's lived less than a mile from me on the Lower East Side since he was born in 1975. Lewis is a native Bohemian, son of a Brooklyn-born motorcycle mechanic who hung with local politicos and musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHRISTGAU: As an hereditary hippy, Jeffrey Lewis has always dug dream songs that drift off in vaguely Buddhist notions of existential displacement and eternal recurrence. So, several of the tracks that lead off his new CD, "A Turn in the Dream-Songs," are way dreamier than a hard-headed interloper like me would prefer. But the music picks up while remaining dreamy with track five, the idealistic yet realistic "Time Trades."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIME TRADES")

JEFFREY LEWIS: (Singing) Because your looks are gonna leave you and your city's gonna change, too, and your shoes are gonna wear through. Yeah, time is gonna take so much away, but there's a way that you can offer time a trade. You got to do something that you can get smarter at. You got to do something you might just be a starter at. You'd better do something that you can get better at 'cause that's the thing that time will leave you with.

CHRISTGAU: Jeffrey Lewis is often funny and sometimes fanciful. The lifetime Bohemian is a likeable super-nerd, neurotic and vulnerable in a rather universal way. The new album includes a touching description of eating alone after you've been dumped, a gangster folk bonus track about massacring mosquitoes, slapstick about failing at suicide and a personal manifesto called "Cult Boyfriend."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CULT BOYFRIEND")

LEWIS: (Singing) For every time I couldn't get a second date or even first, why does one think I'm the best when all the rest think I'm the worst? All of the times no one at all wanted to know if I'm really all that awesome, then wouldn't more people think so? I guess cult boyfriend is the term for me. It's always been quality, not quantity. A cult boyfriend's like a record in a bargain bin. No one knows its worth 'til a collector comes in.

CHRISTGAU: Adding to Jeffrey Lewis' draw as a cult boyfriend is his status as a cult multi-talent. In addition to publishing his own comic books, he illustrates his own CD packages and lectures on the graphic novel, "The Watchman." But his songs come first. And in those songs, the lyrics come first.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KRONGU GREEN SLIME")

LEWIS: (Singing) Before the land, before time, there was a time before land when the world was just slime and Krongu was the brand. Yes, Krongue green sludge was the popular item.

CHRISTGAU: That's the start of the new album's six minute master track, "Krongu Green Slime." It's a dystopian yet tongue-in-cheek reflection on consumerism, evolution, mortality and the tiny place of life itself in the cosmos. It's universal to the max, covering 10 zillion years and counting. On the Lower East Side, that's how we roll.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KRONGU GREEN SLIME")

LEWIS: (Singing) Forget friends, family.

SIEGEL: The new album from Jeffrey Lewis is called "A Turn in the Dream-Songs." Our reviewer is Robert Christgau.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KRONGU GREEN SLIME")

LEWIS: (Singing) It's just cheap stuff that breaks. And in the land after time...

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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