It feels like ages since I wrote about a record from my younger days, and how certain music shaped my understanding (or otherwise) of the world around me at the time. It’s not because of a lack of direction-changing records in my past (far from it; I have oodles), but a combination of ‘not feeling like digging up old feelings’ at the mo and a general struggle to write at all of late, as evidenced by the number of posts this month.
Thank the stars for new music then, as it’s dead easy to write about – they are there with no attendant emotional baggage as yet (that may come some years in the future), just the music and nothing more. I look across at some utterly important albums from twenty years ago, and as I think back through what a profound effect some of these tracks and artists have had over the years, there must have been a day on the train coming home from a shopping jaunt to Manchester, 12″x12″ plastic bags in hand, thinking “hope this isn’t shit”…
So with all that in mind, it’s a rare treat to listen to a new record from a band I am only familiar with by a degree of relation, and am instantly wrapped in an almost intangible link to a time, place and person thanks to a spiritual link to a favourite of yore. If this makes no sense to you, then fear not as it does make sense to me. And that’s the important thing :)
The Leisure Society are part of the far-reaching Willkommen Collective of Brighton and its environs, so named because most of them have cellist Will Calderbank in common. I was introduced to this lot by way of The Miserable Rich a couple of years (and two albums and counting so far) by way of their charming support set to Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan . Not sure why it’s taken me so long to look into the extended family, but there you go.
First of all, special mention should go to the packaging. In this day and age of bypassing the three-dimensionality of music purchasing, it’s always a pleasure to see bands go to the effort of making their CD covers a bit special and this die cut sleeve with hardback-book packaging is utterly lovely. And it’s obvious that the theme here from the images of divers and Steve Zissou-esque band photo is of journey and exploration. And exploration is exactly what we get, with ten tracks of eight people (and a host of guests) seeing just what they can do with charming indie-pop and a lot of instruments.
Initial thoughts from the opening title track, with its marimba opening and sumptuous string arrangements are of a more rusticly-hued Divine Comedy in the spirit of songwriting, and this spirit prevails throughout, although other names both recent and distant bob to the surface here and there to keep the listener wondering just what’s going to be coming next. The biggest joy for me the occasional burst of the more folky stylings of mid-period Wonderstuff, with the cheapseatery of This Phantom Life in particular leaving me pining for the days when Kirsty MacColl was still with us, and bringing back reminiscences of long evenings spent in fields and on hillsides drinking whatever we could muster in the company of innumerable friends and acquaintances.
Elsewhere, plenty of baroque vocal harmonies abound in the manner that the Head and the Heart are helping to bring back to the forefront (best evidenced in Our Hearts Burn Like Damp Matches), and a timeless approach to their craft that ensures that their work is both totally contemporary while keeping one step away in any direction from their peers thanks to very accomplished playing and skill in arrangement. Cellos are seemingly making quite the comeback in modern music, and as I think I have said in posts past that flutes have a bit of an unfairly strict set of stereotypes attached to them attached when it comes to their use in music nowadays so it’s a genuine pleasure to hear them here so often and so well-placed.
And when the more new-fangled instruments (like guitars and the like) take the fore on songs such as Dust on the Dancefloor and Better Written Off (Than Written Down), the style is a jaunty one in the vein of the aforementioned Mr. Hannon with a dash of Belle and Sebastian – sunny, charming and full of hooks.
There is always a danger when employing sounds and instruments close to the roots of traditional music that the end result could either end up either too syrupy and twee, or too baroque and serious for the general public. This isn’t the case here as even when they are at their most wistful and romantic as with I Shall Forever Remain an Amateur, their ear for a good tune remains and retains a modern sensibility and general “otherness” so that the spirits are kept high throughout without stepping back through the decades or centuries in order to make a point.
With the days getting longer and brighter, and thoughts turn towards all things festivally, it’ll be of no surprise if this record is given a lot of airplay – it is gentle enough to fit on most playlists, and off-kilter enough to appease even the most closed-minded hip kid. This next few weeks is going to see a lot of activity with new albums from very big-hitters appearing all over the place, and there will be much competition in finding just what I should be playing at any given time, especially over the next two weeks. And I have little doubt that this collection of songs will have plenty of time in my headphones.