When an album opens with several bars of naked kick-snare you know you’re dealing with a supremely confident artist. ‘I Decide When It Begins’ isn’t a song title that sounds like it is lacking in authority, and while it’s deciding, the intro continues to rise tauntingly, introducing crunchy fret-noise on the beat like a funk-loving rattlesnake roiling to spit at you.
Prior to my first listening I had never heard of Leapling so, as the rattlesnake uncoiled I had literally no clue as to whether it would drop into a full on Hip-Hop anthem or kick on into rock-god mayhem. What I was unprepared for was beautifully lazy sounding power-pop drawn from the cosmopolitan innovation of their Brooklyn heritage. Soft, unassuming, even dreamy-sounding vocals sit on rasping guitar riffs, and melodies that hint at a deeper experience of pain. The contradiction is a good one and could make it a great soundtrack to Dave Eggers’ ‘Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius.’
BTW here’s a tip: the easiest way to sound knowledgeable about new music is to say it sounds like Brooklyn in some way. This reference can be used to describe anything new, unusual, hopefully pretentious and definitely anything that you secretly feel is cool but are not quite sure if it is or not. Leapling have genuine claim to those luxurious qualities and the sound is successfully fresh and new …and definitely feels cool. However, I do think these guys are going to be marmite; as in it it’s not for everyone – those of you drink Stella and don’t laugh at oddball rom-coms will probably not be impressed, but for those that love it, it will feel like your quirky cult discovery of the year.
As an album it oscillates between mid-tempo melancholy ‘Hey Sister’ and ‘Why Can’t You Open Up Your Door’ …to well, up-tempo melancholy ‘One Hit Wonder.’ However, one thing is sure; Dan Arnes is a songwriter/producer who knows how to write a quality body of work that is more than the sum of its eleven parts and come up with more than one distinctly catchy stand alone songs. Good skills. I may be an old-fashioned lover of neatly rhyming lyrics but he has a very satisfying turn of phrase that can draw you into a song quicker than a hipster to a coffee-oiled beard.
Although hailing from the east coast, we do know from track 3 ‘Don’t Move Too Fast’ that they have at some point caught some rays on the west coast. I wonder if that is significant, as although these guys are firmly from Brooklyn there is a definite sense of easy-going nonchalance that seems at odds with the hustle and intensity of New York. I wonder if they surfed with some notable California bands during that summer holiday as, if you’ll excuse the pun, they seem to be chasing Pavement in a way Adele never conceived… but I would say this is a good thing. I really like these guys actually and if they stay with this current breakfast of melancholy vocals poured over crunchy pop cereal they’ll remain in my top 5 of 2016. I’d go on to ruminate that if they listen to Beck’s back catalogue on repeat and up the ante on the unexpected; throwing in more beeps and whistles and embracing their experimental (but nice and melodic …not weird) side they have every chance over the next few years of becoming a genre-defining behemoth indeed even as Beck has.
Finally, the reason I know this is finely crafted art and not just accidental genius? The final track ‘Time Keeps Tickin’’ plays out with that same funky kick-snare from the intro of track one. Brilliant touch.