The opening title track builds beautifully – beginning with a lonely, eerie synth line, before exploding into life for the chorus: it does sound a little bit dated, bringing to mind the Mumford And Sons-led nu-folk revival of 2010, but you can’t deny the energy and exuberance on display. Ten Black Cabins shows off the band’s more downbeat side, to gorgeous effect: it’s a gloriously hypnotic ballad, employing some atmospheric strings and a haunting piano line. There are touches of Conor O’Brien’s Villagers in Hemming’s vocal, or that of John Bramwell of I Am Kloot.
So far, so The Leisure Society. Yet there are genuine surprises on The Fine Art Of Hanging On for long-term fans. I’m A Setting Son is the most memorable moment, mainly due to it’s almost glam-rock beat and fuzzy guitar riffs, augmented by a blasting horn section, and a disorientating switch of tempo towards the end – it’s one of the big highlights of the album. Wide Eyes At Villains is another little gem, taking its time over five and a half minutes to slowly unfold and display big brass flourishes and more of those swooning strings. It’s at times like these you realise why Hemming is so highly rated by his peers.
Some people will remain perplexed – this is still, to all and purposes, a traditional, ‘classic’ sound, and anyone wanting to hear something revolutionary will probably be disappointed. Yet during the album’s closing track, an acoustic strum called As The Shadows Form, something draws you in to listen even more closer: and, as Hemming sadly sings lines like “all this may just keep you sane as the shadows form around you….I know this has to end, I know that this must be the end”, you’re reminded of the dying friend who inspired the album, and the emotional impact is like a punch to the gut. It’s moments like this that confirm Hemming to be one of our most underrated songwriters.
In the place where Ennio Morricone-style whipcracks and Jethro Tull flute lines meet, you’ll find the Leisure Society’s fourth album. This indie-folk band, fronted by guitarist Nick Hemming and piano-playing co-vocalist Christian Hardy, have inadvertently made a concept album inspired by the death of one of Hemming’s friends from cancer. While an upbeat piano hook anchors Nothing Like This and I’m a Setting Sun relies on chunky guitar riffs and peppy horns, the lyrics deal primarily with loneliness and mortality: on Outside In, Hemming sings, “In your heart you know you’re worth/More than you were ever told,” over a paradoxically chirpy melody. The Fine Art of Hanging On is another capably written set, but turns its back on the band’s pared-down folk roots in favour of baroque-pop arrangements that reach for the heights of Rufus Wainwright and Illinoise-era Sufjan Stevens, but don’t always hit the mark.
The Leisure Society in Deutschland:
02.06.15 Berlin, Berghain Kantine
03.06.15 Hamburg, Prinzenbar