(Soundbite of music)

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

On his home turf in Norway, Sondre Lerche is a major league pop star. That's his music in the background. Here though he's a little known indie artist. Sondre Lerche went to NPR's New York studios to play a few new songs and to talk to music reviewer Christian Bordal about his latest CD, "Phantom Punch."

CHRISTIAN BORDAL: Sondre Lerche grew up in the rainy little city of Bergen on the southwest coast of Norway. His mother was a fan of '80s pop bands like the Pet Shop Boys and a-ha. Sondre wasted no time starting to write his own tunes, and by the time he was 16, he'd landed a major label record deal. He started taking guitar lessons at age eight.

Mr. SONDRE LERCHE (Musician): They wanted to teach me classical music, which really wasn't for me. But after a while, I ended up compromising with my guitar teacher and he started teaching me Brazilian music, which was really exciting.

BORDAL: Those early Brazilian guitar lessons had a lasting effect. Listen carefully to "Airport Taxi Reception," the first song on Lerche's latest CD, "Phantom Punch." You'll notice that he's not playing your average 1-4-5 rock chords or rhythms.

(Soundbite of song, "Airport Taxi Reception")

Mr. LERCHE: (Singing) I called you because we've grown apart. This may seem absurd but I'm in the dark (unintelligible)

BORDAL: This new album is a departure from Sondre's previous efforts. His first two records were mostly acoustic, twee folk pop with a liberal sprinkling of strings. And his last CD, "Duper Sessions," consisted of a batch of songs played in the style with jazz standards.

Mr. LERCHE: I really felt like just writing a bunch of songs that we sort of strip away all the subtleties.

BORDAL: I prefer this new, more aggressive sound. Though ironically one of the best songs on his latest record is an acoustic ballad called "Tragic Mirror." Lerche played a version of it during our interview.

(Soundbite of song, "Tragic Mirror")

Mr. LERCHE: (Singing) How you've got to smarten out and act like nothing's ever gonna break you. Break you. Break your mirror in two...

BORDAL: Sondre Lerche has now made it to the ripe old age of 24. He writes good, quirky but strong pop melodies. Though his lyrics often suffer from being imprecise and a touch English as a second languagy. But one of the strengths of his work is the wonderful variety of arrangements spanning his four-CD output.

Mr. LERCHE: I have this very idealistic and maybe naïve thought that almost any song can be any thing. And you know, if I recorded one song today, it would maybe be exciting and cool. But I could record the same song next week and it would be something completely different. Maybe it would be cooler or maybe not.

BORDAL: As a demonstration, listen to the solo acoustic version of his new song, "Say It All," next to the album track.

(Soundbite of song, "Say It All")

Mr. LERCHE: (Singing) There is no way to say it all. Say it again and say it all. I said a little. The rest is a little. I don't think you should say it all. Say it again and say it all. You know the first line. They thought of the first line.

BORDAL: Lerche's music is too indie to make it on commercial radio in the U.S., but in Norway, where pop music tastes are less rigid, he's a pop star.

Mr. LERCHE: There's a lot of crappy music that people like, you know, all over the world, and Norway is definitely not an exception. But Norway is also the country where Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits still sell as many records, or twice as many, actually, as Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera.

BORDAL: I love those crazy Norwegians.

For NPR News, this is Christian Bordal.

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