In an interview with For Folk’s Sake, British songwriter Nick Hemming had to say of his band the Leisure Society’s latest record, Alone Aboard the Ark (2013): “this one sounds pretty much perfect – or at least how I envisioned it.” It’s hard to argue with him; Alone Aboard the Ark is a fully realized album of fully realized, literate chamber pop, the perfect complement to a sunny summer afternoon. Which means you might have to wait a few months for the proper ambiance, but it’s still more than worth a listen, no matter the season.
Many reviewers have compared this latest record with the kings of modern chamber pop, Belle & Sebastian. But while they certainly share a similar aesthetic, the songs here rarely remind me in any direct way of Stuart Murdoch & Co. A closer comparison would be to Rufus Wainwright, or especially the Divine Comedy. The similarities are particularly marked when the Leisure Society’s music frequently draws on pre-rock musical traditions. Witness the piano riff on “Everyone Understands,” which immediately brings to mind Sufjan Stevens’ “Come On Feel the Illinoise” when in fact both songs are drawing on mid-century Caribbean music such as Harry Belafonte’s “Turn the World Around.” Likewise the gentle Tin Pan Alley shuffle of “A Softer Voice Takes Longer Hearing” or the ragtime jazz clarinet break on the jaunty “Life Is a Cabriolet.”
That said, the folk-pop of the late 60s is the primary antecedent here – unsurprising, seeing as how Alone Aboard the Ark was recorded at Ray Davies’ Konk Studio in London. The first track, “Another Sunday Psalm,” hews closer to the folk side of that equation, with ringing guitars that invite the listener into the Leisure Society’s bright, ultra-British world. “One Man & His Fug” favors the pop side – I can almost hear Neil Hannon on backup vocals. Meanwhile “Fight for Everyone” incorporates a slinky synthesizer lead and sequenced drums, while the straight-up power pop of “Tearing the Arches Down” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Matthew Sweet record. It’s not that Hemming & Co. are stuck in the past. Rather, they’re sewing new clothes out of vintage fabric, leaving their unique mark in the literate lyrics and the skillful blending of eras and genres. (I could make a joke about hemming and leisure suits, but I will refrain in the name of good taste.)
Elsewhere in the For Folk’s Sake interview, Hemming says of this process of cutting up and reassembling to create something new: “You have to keep writing and creating. When you’ve still got the inspiration you’ve got to use it because I think it’s finite how many songs you can write in your life… How many decent songs. Not many people have a long career of writing good songs. I feel like the clock’s ticking and I’ve got to keep writing.” Maybe so. But the clock hasn’t run out for Mr. Hemming; and if Alone Aboard the Ark is any indication, it won’t for some time to come. I look forward to spending even more time with his Leisure Society in future.
- The Leisure Society – Alone Aboard The Ark (unmurdstone.wordpress.com)
- This Week’s Interesting Music Releases – July 2, 2013 (largeheartedboy.com)
- Rock & Pop: Review: The Leisure Society at the Glee Club in Birmingham (coventrytelegraph.net)