Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts are romantically hapless on Manhattan

jeffrey_lewis_manhattan_-_600The one time I met Jeffrey Lewis, he was folded into the cramped backstage area of a Manchester venue, waiting to go on stage in support of 2009's 'Em Are I. It was a brilliant break-up album, barely held together by single "Broken Broken Broken Heart". He introduced himself, and then his "ex-girlfriend" sat next to him; she was on keyboards and backing vocals for the tour. Of course she was. It was the kind of romantically hapless moment that a previous generation would associate with Woody Allen, and a later one with Michael Cera.

Six years on, whatever's going on in his love life today, not much has changed on his latest record, Manhattan. Opener "Scowling Crackhead Ian" is, belying its title, perhaps the most beautiful thing Lewis has ever written, marrying a mournful guitar line to his incomparable knack for storytelling. Everything here is rich with the living, moving parts of the narrative, from the background traffic noise to the sublime detail of the prose, telling of a childhood acquaintance's life "forged by a tiny portion of love or fortune". "Sad Screaming Old Man" recycles the punk freakout of 2003's "Texas" to spin out a giddy tale of bunking with a lunatic, who our protagonist fears to be a future version of himself. (The tale is delightfully fleshed out when the titular old man gets his own verse near the end.) It's fantastically entertaining, and showcases how adept the songwriter has become as he approaches his 40th birthday next month.

Still nothing's figured out for good, and the quiet moments of introspection and wisdom remain crumbs from the table of braying existential panic. "Outta Town" is the single this time round, and while it is fundamentally a love song about missing the adored after only "one weekday and a half," in Lewis' hands the anxiety teeters into a nervous breakdown: "My sense of up or down go straight to Hell without you. Now is it time to go back to bed yet? I can't tell without you." Like "Friday I'm In Love", the false divide between happy and sad experiences is blurred, replaced with a celebration of life as a perpetually bittersweet joyride.

Manhattan is Lewis' seventh studio album for Rough Trade, alongside a slew of EPs, collaborations, and various other projects. What stands out here is just how much he still has left to say: about the future, love, the industry ("Support Tours"), and where his priorities remain. And where do his priorities remain? Telling stories, nerding out over music and art and culture, obsessing over the details: "At least until I throw that bullshit out and have a baby." No hurry, Jeff.

Release: 30th October 2015, Rough Trade

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    1. Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts – Manhattan | Loud and Bright - 25/02/2016

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