NAIVETY. It’s one of those words whose power has been denuded by an overuse of a certain conjugation of it.
Much like ‘awesome’, the non sequitur of teens across the English-speaking world, naivety has come to mean fey, unwise, easily led. Sing Leaf, the recording pen-name of Toronto’s David Como, is naive in all the best senses. Let’s start a campaign to reclaim the word from the derogatory right here. He’s otherworldly, unconcerned with making something for cynical reasons, instinctive. And his new album for Tin Angel, Not Earth, is a wonderfully naive and spellbinding thing.
It’s only his third full-length affair, following as it does Watery Moon, from seven years back, and 2018’s Shu Ra – which David confesses wasn’t actually really meant to be heard by anyone. “Some things only retain their power if you don’t talk about them,” he said at the time of its release. Even those close to him know little of his aural attic creativity. It was an “individual, therapeutic thing”; until friend and compatriot Sandro Perri got wind of what David was fashioning.
Last year, both David and Sandro played at the musically switched-on End of the Road festival, out on the high chalk ridges of the Dorset-Wiltshire border. They welcomed the sunny Sunday in with magical and nuanced music to swathe in, away from the schedule-clutching rush of the final day. Those that tarried on the rush matting in the tipi were bathed with musical magic.
Proceedings begin so sweetly and seductively with “Easy On You”: heartfelt love expressed in the everyday: “Darkness leading into the light / The underwater time of night / Downstairs they’re fighting in Apartment 2 / I’ll make it easy, easy on you,” Pat Bramm soothes a lover with those 3am lows. “’I’ll keep the devil at bay; I’ll drive you to the USA”. Hell, you want this person on your side, they’re so you tribe. And it all unfolds over found crowd sound, a bassline that is pure Lazer Guided Melodies, the most blissful acoustic guitar. It’s the warmest of indie-folk lullabies; tuck in, close your eyes. Sing Leaf will keep you properly safe. “Feel your body and your blood moving through it …”.
I mean, what an opener.
“Little Magic” seems almost the male response: a pretty guitar riff is buoyed up by fine acoustic harmonies and synths. We’re staying blissed; our David-as-progenitor has that shyness of the truly besotted, tongue-tied and dreaming of her: “Stay by my side, even just for the night / You know I never want to die”. A slow drum machine marks a stately pace. It’s Stephin Merritt’s Magnetic Fields out in gentle folk territory.
With the six minutes-plus of “Honeyeater”, we’re adrift now, nearer sleep … flutes and all kinds of percussive squeaks, blips, and swoops scatter playful propulsive texture over mellow electronica. Discorporeal voices aaaaah; the flute melody entices you to burrow deeper. A guitar draped in reverb wanders past, has really pretty things to say in tandem with the flute. Something about the off-kilter vocal treatments make you wonder if this is what “Windowlicker” would’ve sounded like had Richard D James decided to have a blissful day playing pink-rim Island folk. It’s a psychedelic-acoustic instrumental, if you’ll allow. It’s instinctive and quirky and light of heart and knows exactly what it wants, untrammelled by expectation or a need to be anything other than itself. Naive. Great.
“Magnetic” is an electro smoocher, full of atmosphere and an early OMD approach to experimental pop melody. It’s sweet and it shrugs its shoulders, because its quite happy to be pinging electronic pop with a really swooning edge.
“Forever Green” was the first single to be spun off Not Earth, what seems like many moons ago; the pretty little video, an animation by Melbourne’s Jordan Borg, is available for your delectation below. It’s bubblegum psych about his green little girl, green grass, “green like the blanket on my true love’s bed” – it’s a track from The Millennium’s vault. Sunshine pop and just 129 seconds, a gorgeous confection.
Inspiration is the key here, David recounts: “‘Forever Green’ came into my head fully-formed while sitting in the backseat, on a road trip with my wife. I was looking out the window and I just started receiving the song. Within minutes it was there, completely. Where did it come from? Why did it come to me? You can’t think about it or ask about it, you just submit to it or you lose the song.”
Sunshine pop … which leads us to “Sunshine” the second single, which stopped us in our tracks here. It’s a real experimental psych-pop odyssey, with a full minute of voice sample and woozy riffing before David proclaims: Don’t the days seem long? / Ain’t the coffee stronger? / Is your man getting softer? / Do you still love his song?”. And just to reprise: my lord, that flute break, pure David Axelrod when he was helming the Chocolate Watch Band’s mixing desk.
David said of it: “[It’s] about finding balance, about calming, stilling, seeing … how the beauty and truth that can seem so distant is often directly at hand, accessible, simple.”
“Eggtooth” explores a kind of wonky, early and clattery synth organic feel that’ll make you think of Talk Talk circa It’s My Life. There’s a kind of lush and vegatative atmosphere, some strange fauna filtered by sampling and tronica. It all concludes with another wide-open musical journey in the shape of “Out Of The Dream”: an apt farewell, after the bliss? Retro synth voicings and zings stand bold against vocal hush: “When I look into your eyes / I’m confused, I’m alive / The kind that I like.” Gamelan bells layer into a rather lovely and woozy slice of dream pop that glints and glimmers into steel drums, dazzling you and … sigh, it’s over.
Naivety then. Not Earth follows its heart and goes where it needs to, wishes you to come along for the most delightful ride. It’s intensely, deeply personal in its vision; but it’s proud and strong and vital. The only album I can think of with the absolute naive wide-eyed wonder overall of Not Earth, if sonically very different, is East River Pipe’s The Gasoline Age.
David, who played, recorded and mixed every instrument at home, allowing Sandro Perri along to master the result, says: ““Music for me has never been about crafting the best-sounding song, or even the most appealing song. It’s more about honouring the spark.”
And that spark is so alluring, so seductive. Time spent in Not Earth will be time spent blissfully and exceedingly well.
Sing Leaf’s Not Earth will be released by Tin Angel Records on September 25th. Order yours at Bandcamp.