Throughout his career, Sondre Lerche has never been afraid to take chances or defy expectations. Whether that meant releasing an album of jazz ballads, faithful synth pop, or jumpy new wave rockers, he's spent little time trying to harness his restless musical spirit and instead follows merrily wherever it may lead. On 2022's Avatars of Love, Lerche pulls off the sneaky trick of both seeming to settle down musically while also shooting off in some surprising directions. As to the former, quite a few of the songs follow a similar template. "Guarantee That I'd Be Loved" leads the album off with some typically intimate lyrics, Lerche's just-above-a-whisper voice, and lush string arrangements -- written by former High Llama Sean O'Hagan -- that swoop and flutter like a weightless Greek chorus. It's a truly lovely approach, one that Lerche is adept at milking for every last drop of emotion. It's not the only trick up his sleeve here, though. Whether it's the slick and snappy city pop-influenced "Summer in Reverse," which features vocals from CHAI, or the elongated bossa nova balladry of "My Love Still Waits," the Leonard Cohen-quoting, chamber pop confessional "Now She Sleeps Beside Me" or the avant-garde, Mary Lattimore-assisted "Magnitude of Love," it's clear that Lerche is open to trying all sort of styles in order to get the songs across. He even drops in a couple of relatively uncomplicated tracks that have the feel of classic singles: the bouncy funk-pop "Special Needs, which he sings with Dirty Projectors' vocalist Felicia Douglass, and the uncluttered, highly sophisticated "Cut," a song one could imagine on a playlist between Scritti Politti and Prefab Sprout. These moments of simplicity are balanced by a couple of songs that run past the ten-minute mark and let Lerche spill his guts at length. "Dead of the Night" is harrowing and almost too real, a duet for acoustic guitar and strings -- with cameos from doomy synths and falsetto -- that rolls along dramatically picking up feelings like a real-life version of Katamari Damacy. "Avatars of Love" is altogether more playful; it sports a loping drum machine groove and a dynamic arrangement that goes from soft and sweet to rambling and loose, while Lerche free-associates song titles, singers, and memories on the way to sticking the landing with some real artistic grace. Songs like this make it seem like he's turned all the genre hopping and left turns into a more organic approach that leads to surprises within a coherent framework of sound. To that end, it may be the most surprising record of his career. It's definitely one that demands repeat listening and deep dives into the lyrical content as well as the structure of both the songs and the album. While it's hard to look at a career as long and varied as Lerche's and call anything a definitive album, Avatars of Love comes about as close as one could expect.
Avatars of Love
Avatars of Love Review
by Tim Sendra
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