Monday, 23 May 2011

Review: The Leisure Society - Into The Murky Water

Into the Murky WaterThis group first came to my attention when I heard them playing a live session for BBC radio 6Music, a session that immediately interested me in their recorded output. So off I went and tracked down their new album 'Into The Murky Water'. It's fair to say on the first couple of plays the sheer brightness of the arrangements were enough to distract me from how brilliant the songs actually are, but after more listens this album reveals some brilliant songwriting and some wonderful musical moments.

The Leisure Society's sound is part folk, part indie and this album is a textbook example of how that style could be done the greatest justice. The title track 'Into The Murky Water' makes a wonderful introduction to the album, characterised by elegaic strings, splashes of flutes and bright ukelele. A slightly difficult-sounding stomp of a verse makes way for a beautifully gentle chorus, before 'Dust On The Dancefloor' picks up the tempo and gradually builds into a melancholic but upbeat highlight that demonstrates their knack for matching catchy upbeat tunes to sorrowful lyrics sung rather solemnly. 'Our Hearts Burn Like Damp Matches' and 'Although We All Are Lost' are definitely the two most peaceful moments on the album, undeniably twee but sparkling with blossoming beauty and recalling an unmistakably English equivalent of The Decemberists, while the swaying waltz of 'You Can Keep Me Talking' brings to mind Steeleye Span or even Fairport Convention, with it's stunning melody and colourful string and woodwind arrangements that decorate much of this wonderful album.

 There is also a charming quaintness that at times shows shades of the Divine Comedy, Belle & Sebastian or even at times a much lighter version of Fleet Foxes. 'This Phantom Life' has a joyous chorus, alluring verses and rings out with a bright positivity, like much of this album does. Then just as you think it couldn't get any better, 4 minutes into the song it rises again. 'The Hunger Years' is blessed with soothing piano and warm strings that carry the wistful melody along until the pace is picked up just before 3 minutes in and yet another fantastic section follows as a perfect example of the group's gift for clever songwriting. The most downbeat moment would be the yearning, fragile 'I Shall Forever Remain An Amateur' which at times recalls the stripped down beauty of I Am Kloot's recent 'Sky At Night' album. And like a lot of the songs here, it is constructed of several brilliantly written musical parts that fit together effortlessly, as the coldness of '... Amateur' grows into a satisfying warmth and then into the most splendidly positive singalong outro. It leads nicely into the jaunty swing of 'Better Written Off Than Written Down' which has shades of country to it, but is defined by its playful ukelele and clarinet which give it a perky joyfulness, almost like later period Beatles or even like a much jollier Midlake covering The Thrills (remember them?).

The final track 'Just Like The Knife' provides a stunning close to the album, where the lyrics paint a wonderful picture to accompany the dreamy swoon of the magical melodies: "just as the dawn declares another day... from these English coastal towns, empty seas will drag us down". Quite often the downbeat lyrics will come as a surprise to anyone enchanted by the uplifting prettiness of the music.

Intelligent and superbly crafted indie folk pop, and one of the finest records I've heard this year. Masterful arrangements, brilliant ideas and a cohesive yet eclectic enough album that will charm many listeners just as it has charmed me. After just a few plays the beauty of these songs has enchanted me to the point where I am playing it over and over again. The mark of a quality album. 9/10

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