Kiran Leonard - Western Culture - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Kiran Leonard - Western Culture

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2018-10-19
Kiran Leonard - Western Culture
Kiran Leonard - Western Culture

Years ago, when I was (to quote R.E.M.) losing my religion, there appeared in the import racks of my local watering hole, 1812 Overture Records, a brand-new holy trinity. Three British singer-songwriters—Kevin Coyne, Roy Harper, and Peter Hammill—produced enough blessed records to win secular sainthood in my new-found freedom from what William Blake termed mind forg’d manacles. These artists and their albums were obscure, idiosyncratic, very British, and beautifully intense.

Well, this record by Kiran Leonard follows in those hoary footsteps. Kevin Coyne (RIP) made an album called Beautiful Extremes, and that pretty much sums up this music: It’s loud, intense, lovely, acoustic, loud even more, intelligent, sublimely quiet, passionate, and as yet another iconic oddball, Captain Beefheart, once titled a record, Strictly Personal.

But allow me to hit the high-water mark: The fifth track, “Legacy of Neglect,” is about nine minutes of rollercoaster beauty. It starts so simply, with acoustic guitar and falsetto vocals. Then drums and guitar (and a pretty great scream) propel the tune into a higher orbit; that is, until it flatlines into electronic space, pumps the gas a bit, and then envelops a truly sublime acoustic guitar, violin, piano and vocal that evokes the wonder of Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis. But the darn thing then stokes its engines into yet another driven melody that abruptly stops.

Catch a breath.

“Now Then” does just that with yet another acoustic interlude, with backing voices, a heavenly melody and what sounds like a banjo that plucks notes that rest of the various steps of Jacob’s Ladder.

But, be warned: This is idiosyncratic stuff.

Backtracking: the very first song, “The Universe Out There Knows No Smile,” has a rough-hewn vocal that’s probably in the same orbit as Johny Brown of The Band of Holy Joy. Like most great music, this requires the antenna to be twisted a bit.  

And then “Paralyzed Force,” is a different and very languid vocal sound: There’s a bit of emotional Morrissey and a vibrato worthy of the great and sadly recently deceased ultimate folk singer, Vin Garbutt.

Beautiful Extremes, indeed!

And, to suggest another tenebrous thought, the acoustic bits of this song conjures the tenderness of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson as he bled his music into “Baker Street Muse” from the Minstrel in the Gallery’s bit about the “Crash-Barrier Waltzer.”

Beautiful stuff, indeed!

“Working People” is a sad acoustic delight. Roy Harper and his gentle dreamy songs like “Davey’ or “Francesca,” or “Forever” come to mind.

But this album does rock: “An Easel” is a bull in a china shop. Everything becomes urgent, and the bric-a-brac gets broken a bit. And “Unreflective Life” is equally strident with big dramatic chords and more of that wonderful falsetto. Perhaps, the song lingers past its due date. (But that’s just an idea.) And “Shuddering Instance” rocks even more, and struts like The Talking Heads.

In contrast, “Exactitude Instance” is sad piano ballad drama stuff that avoids maudlin tears before bedtime.

And then, “Suspension” returns to the dissonant circus of tough chords, a chanted and urgent vocal, and a sound that recalls, once again, the alt-everything (sort of off-kilter) music of The Band of Holy Joy.

This record boils with a lot of stuff—folk, rock, a punky attitude, intense beauty, a great scream, and harmonic drama—and though it is Kiran Leonard’s first real studio record, it has lost none of that DIY charm that is the rocket thrust of good music. Not only that but (heaven forbid!), the album has an idea! Apparently, the record talks “about the computer as something that disarticulates the self; something that makes the world seem impossibly huge and grotesque, that swallows its user rather than magnifying it.”

Of course, Peter Hammill, one of those secular saints of my post-religious life once sang, “In the morning light the stigmata don’t show.”

Roy Harper sang, “What a trust we break/Not giving to our children/O how we fail them/O how we nail them.”

Kevin Coyne simply said, “The world is full of fools/But it doesn’t make me a bad person.”

And, as the equally great Ian Hunter (of Mott the Hoople and solo fame) once said in his live album, “Welcome to the Club.”

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