A very young man, imbued with a mature confidence and striking talent, shows new talent how it should be done.
Brunswick Street is available at:
Bowler Hat Soup is available at:
AGE is a fixation, that has been rather unhealthily flirted with…
in the media. It is a curate’s egg of a subject, when investigating new acts. If a participant is under a certain age, magazines, media and the public are practically sweating with excitement. Too much regard and precision is levied towards the subject. Sure, it is impressive when young talent are heard and admired. It makes you aware that the young are ambitious and dedicated early on, and inspires you to encourage other such youthful acts. Where the issue comes, is with expectations. Laura Marling has been the modern idol, when it comes to proving my point. She has recorded a string of brilliant albums, and is still in her early 20s. In a way she is the exception that proves the rules. I hope that when she is in her 30s and 40s, that there is still material and desire in her: one suspects there will be to some degree. Problems arise for the rest of the market. Unless you are one of the greatest acts or artists of all time, then it is likely that you are not going to achieve the potential of Marling. There are many in their teens and 20s, whom have energy and intent now, but one wonders whether they will still be making music a decade from now? As a man of 30 myself, I am finding, that after 12 years of song writing, that I am creating some of my sharpest and most ambitious songs- and haven’t recorded a note yet. I have thrown away songs, lyrics and ideas that seems like a good idea, but when being retrospective, are embarrassing or sub-par. I would hate to think, that if I had put a band together in my late-teens, natural decay and market forces would have extinguished our flame by now. Once that happens, and you exhaust solo channels, there is a real risk that you could be dead and buried in your early 30s. Acts such as The National show how bloody good and inspiring you can be in your 40s. So, what happens to today’s young wonders? Reports have come out that suggest less attention is paid to new acts, and less long-term care is applied to their cause. This means that they are often forced to fend for themselves, and face a worrying nervousness throughout their entire career: which can often end after a few years. The media are largely to blame by putting so much attention and weight onto their shoulders. Too many new young acts burst with too much energy and fervency keen, no doubt, to impress straight from the off. This pattern and momentum continues for a couple of albums or so, before the seams begin to dangle loose. It is tremendous if you have the clarity and songs early on; but unless there are labels and people willing to support that act, then a uncertain future beckons. It is a tough and anxious choice: leave your great songs aside for a few years, and bide time until your mid-late 20s; or go in young and hard and hope that things work out well for the long-term. I can fully appreciate the latter; if you have the songs and the desire, go for it! I just worry that too much emphasis is placed on the subject of age, and puts too much expectation on young shoulders. That said, if you look and scratch hard enough, you will find saplings, that are capable of growing into huge birds of prey. Not too many mind, but just the right amount to give you some hope.
Kiran Leonard was brought to my attention via The Guardian: a publication whose music featured and reviews have caused as much chagrin and anger in my as anything else. They featured Leonard, of course concentrating on age hugely, but also heaping huge praise onto him; referring to him as “gifted”- whilst highlighting his inventiveness. I am going to try to nab him for future band work, as on paper, there are few more talented musicians on the planet. He plays drums, guitars, electric piano and mandolin, amongst the long, long list of instruments to his name. Between the fact that he is in his teen years, he is unlike anyone else. Sufjan Stevens has a comparable multi-insturmental talent, but even he pales into comparisons. I have long bemoaned the lack of information new acts provide to the potential listener/reviewer/stalker. Aside from obligatory social media coverage, little consideration is given to providing biography or insights. The music is all there, for sure, but there is seldom information about the band (or solo artist), or any insight into their music, lyrics or influenced. If the music ‘can do the talking’ it goes someway to distilling the issue, but is still not good enough. In an age where musicians are having to work harder than ever to be heard, recognised and remembered, it is vital that more is done by the act. Leonard has informative and striking social media and BandCamp pages: colourful designs, great photography, and most importantly, commentary and details about his songs. Leonard has released E.P.s before; working and honing his sounds, and making his name known to many. Now, in the spring of 2013, he has unveiled his album Bowler Hat Soup. You sense there is intelligence and personality working overtime in every nook and cranny. The album cover is not a predictably dull portrait; instead it is a variegated and fascinating painting depicting psychotropic horizons, cartoon characterisations and trippy ’60s psychedelia designed by Kelly, whom should be very proud! Leonard is self-deprecating and good-humoured. His last album, The Big Fish, was worked on hard, but he attributes some failings and shortcomings. He attests that the production values were underwhelming; there are too many loqouacious tracks and too few sharper compacts; little regard towards personal themes and too much oblique lyrics and philosophy. One could forgive him in a heartbeat: debut albums are never spectacular; unless you are Weezer, The Libertines: or acts that are encouraged by enough various input and support. Now, the 16-track opus is unveiled, and ready for public consumption. The majority of the tracks are under two-and-a-half minutes (Sea of Eyes is 70 seconds long); some are longer (Drysdale is seven minutes and seven seconds long). The titles are fascinating, the range spectacular and ambition matches that of the ’60s pioneers such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Byrds. Ordinarily a new act shows little invention regarding song titles; a tendency to the cloying is evident. Leonard has Whisky Bath and Bora Bora on the track list: not something your Ke$has or Ed Sheerans would be smart enough to write. In a time where there is a leaning towards the digital, Leonard has gone to great lengths to rectify the issues of sterility and lack of design. Each track (if you access BandCamp) has a unique design picture/cover; as well as a few lines to describe what the song is about and entails. Great attention is paid towards fans and potential fans alike. It makes it easy to like him, and gain an insight into his thought process.
After an 18-month process of writing, recording and mixing, Bowler Hat Soup’s children are born. As someone whom writes with terribly exhausting and ambition, and has a curious vocal range, I am always drawn by individuals that are unafraid to be bold and honest with regards to their talents and skills. I have been off put by my own vocal ‘eccentricities’: Leonard has an even bigger talent for instruments, mixing moods and genres, and creating an array of wonderful sounds. Although the album has been around for quite a few months (it was released in October of last year), songs such as Dear Lincoln have been gaining a lot of regard and praise. Brunswick Street caught my ear; it is the album’s second track, and- in my view- the highlight. The title refers to a street in Australia, and in a country where- unbeknownst to me- they have separate recycling bins for heroin needles- due to high proportion of junkies. Although inspiration may be pointed towards drug-induced chaos, its personal portrait/cover depicts two sweet young girls, smiling broadly to camera: a wild and sharp juxtaposition. I sat down to investigate the song, refreshed that I did not have to interpret another track about personal anxiety, love-gone-bad and the woe-is-me attitude towards Britain’s streets. An acoustic strum opens the track, as Leonard’s voice arrives, sweet and calmed. There are tones of modern solo artists, but I detected hints of McCartney’s ‘The White Album’-era work, as well as Crowded House. There is that same sense of authoritative beauty to it. It’s words: “A cold winter brawl/The fog masquerades” sets a stirring and poetic early scene. Leonard’s voice drips with raw honey and whisky-stained soul: early Rufus Wainwright can be heard in the way his semi-operatic tones bring to life his words. All the words are crystalline and fraught with emotion and remembrance: one suspects that a quivering lip could be detected during the recording. Brunswick Street is “where the deadbeats meet”: a street that moves our protagonist in foreign and unusual ways. The acoustic stillness is augmented by orchestral lustre and passion. The kind of strings Nick Drake would unleash during Five Leaves Left are heard, and create spine-tingling waves. Although you cannot compare Leonard to any other artists through study, intuitive ear or second-guessing, there are shades of various icons in little avenues: a bit of Paul Simon’s poetic and stirring lyrics; some Bon Iver vocal beauty; a swish of Kate Bush/Wainwright string work- the effect is quite haunting. Evocations of Wainwright’s gorgeous timbre, as well as colours of ’60s legends are detectable in the vocal that follows a musical rush. Percussion blows and strikes, tumbling and blowing steam; the strings are a whisper, and acoustic guitar joins the fray. Street scenes and local figures are introduced: “The prose of a lost man”, who plays guitar and “speaks with hoarse experience” is to be heard in the baking sun, and vivid lanes. There is less focus on the author himself, and his love strife and personal doubts. Attentions are turned to a place few of us will ever broach; the images that are unveiled put you right there, fearful yet mesmerised. Never is there any sense of any foreboding or bleak mood: there is a pop and orchestral strum for the most part. Although Leonard’s voice quivers and emotes, the music remains supportive and comforting. U.S. influences and arcs are layered into the architecture and bits of Dylan’s snarl can be detected when he sings “That’s where the cool beats sleep”. Ballad of a Thin Man-cum-Bringing It All Back Home are worthy notations and footnotes. As well as the lyrics, which paint wonderful pictures; the chorus is also strong and memorable; the music is charming and locomotive; but the vocals impress most. Leonard growls, sneers, quivers and emotes; his voice belts, distorts and introverts, sometimes within the same line, bringing to mind the likes of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, sans plain scariness. When the frantic and busy mood is calmed to sleep, Leonard turns his voice into a sweet-natured call; bare strings are introduced, and tales of a “dent in your car” and “summers on Brunswick Street” bring us to land… well, almost. For the final 35 seconds or so, a curious coda and outro is presented. Strange echos and sounds can be heard: perhaps the true and purest evocation of the words are brought to life. There is a dancing and tripping line of electric piano (?), that is backed by wooshings, twisted wordless vocals, and a psychedelic haze to it. Due to the nature of the song, in the way that it subverts expectation and provides constant surprise, it is s fitting and memorable end to a brilliant track.
It has taken a little while for me to be made aware of Kiran Leonard- shame on me, but also the media as well. I have not heard of a better or more talented artist for a very long time indeed, and was rather taken aback at just how good he is. He is very young, for sure, but if you factor that out (conceding that it is an impressive fact), and concentrate on everything else, then you will be a huge fan very soon. The range of moods and movements on Bowler Hat Soup keeps you fascinated and enthralled, and there are so many wonderful compositions, lovely stories and strange scenes, that it is an exhausting, but vastly rewarding listen. I do hope that many people turn on to his music, as well as being impressed by him enormously, I am jealous. Have to nab this guy for the future, and there will be more like me, whom will try to recruit him into a band; knowing that he will give great weight and wonder to the mix. As of now, as a teenage solo artist, he is in a rare position. There are no musicians as talented as him, and in terms of a singer, he has few competitors too. His words and tales are captivating and varied, and as a lyricist and composer he is also far ahead of his contemporaries; making the songs and albums more impressive than pretty much anything else out there. Leonard gives detailed information and insights into his world: thus making it far easier to relate and appreciate what he has to say. When we consider age, I hope it will not be an issue. I am confident he will be making music in a couple of decades from now. He has all the key components and a clear drive and ambition. I just hope that the media will let him record and not focus too much on age, because in a time where too many solo artists and bands fizzle out- talented or not- it would be wonderful to see an artist making album after album, for years to come. He should have no fear at all. The public ear will be receptive and hungry for his music now, and the future, and I really do hope that when he reaches my age (really, really old), thoughts, songs, and compositions will still be renewed, played and presented to the public. Take enough time to listen to the music, and see where I am coming from, as one thing is crystal-clear:
NO ONE like him will be heard of any time soon- if at all.
Brunswick Street available at
The album, Bowler Hat Soup, is released on August 26th- pre-order it at: