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Aural Pleasure 

Sondre Lerche is a gifted chameleon.

On Duper Sessions, he established himself as a modern-day jazz crooner in the Chet Baker mold. With this year’s Phantom Punch, he satisfied his indie-rock jones and explored the possibilities of ambient guitar noise. With his new soundtrack to the Steve Carell film, Dan In Real Life, Lerche reinvents himself as a low-key, acoustic-based troubadour who falls somewhere between Paul Simon and Elliott Smith, with a few Randy Newman piano chords thrown into the mix.

Lerche is able to manage such versatility because he’s an accomplished, schooled musician, and also because his musical curiosity is boundless at this stage of his career.

His short instrumental pieces for Dan In Real Life are clear and evocative, with “Family Theme Waltz” offering a touch of Bacharach trumpet and “Dan and Marie Picking Hum” displaying his nimble guitar chops.

The real revelation, however, comes from the four new full-fledged Lerche songs inspired by the film. “To Be Surprised” moves with a fast, country gallop, and its gentle instrumentation suits Lerche’s soft tenor. A hit-or-miss lyricist at his best, Lerche demonstrates a sure wit here, with the memorable refrain, “Better be prepared to be surprised.”

The lovely “My Hands Are Shaking” opens with Lerche revealing, “My hands are shaking from carrying this torch for you,” and it sets the stage for one of his best lost-love laments. His cover of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door” might seem like an overly obvious choice, but he reshapes the song into a string-laden baroque ballad worthy of Nick Drake.

If Lerche’s work here echoes Simon, Smith, and Newman, it’s because they’re three pop songwriters who’ve managed to transcend the limitations of film composing, and Lerche knows it. He’s still discovering his own identity, but he’s already savvy enough to emulate the masters.

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September 9, 2020

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