British folk-rock band The Leisure Society released their ambitious 2009 debut LP to as auspicious a reception a young band can hope for. Touching on areas from skittering dance-pop to bare bones freak folk, The Sleeper earned them a sincere endorsement from Brian Eno. From the outset, it was clear that frontman Nick Hemming possessed a musical versatility that doubled as the emotional core of The Leisure Society; that Eno wasn’t the only pop pioneer to endorse them isn’t a surprise.
Recorded with the oversight of The Kinks’ Ray Davies at his own Konk Studios, the band’s third LP, Alone Aboard the Ark, doesn’t encompass the same sonic palette. Instead of stretching that versatility that was once their defining characteristic, Alone finds Hemming and his group submitting to a gravitational influence towards more commercial indie-folk (which is to say, Lumineers territory). Once a lesser known, generally brighter alternative to Sufjan Stevens, The Leisure Society still have yet to take that next step outside their comfort zone that The Sleeper certainly hinted they could.
Alone kicks off in telling fashion with “Another Sunday Psalm”, a cut fit perfectly for The Decemberists’ The King is Dead, with Hemming summoning his best Colin Meloy. The band’s electronic and orchestral sides have receded here to near-invisibility – a squiggly synth line on “Fight for Everyone” here, a clarinet intro on “Life Is a Cabriolet” there – leaving space for nothing but pure warmth throughout. It’s lovely, but most of the band’s efforts here are micro over macro. For instance, all the extra-dense percussion parts and acoustic strumming sound great, but that was never really an issue with them. Likewise, Alone Aboard the Ark doesn’t tackle any major challenges that might have elevated The Leisure Society above an expanding pool of indie folk artists they’re now swimming amongst.
Essential Tracks: “Fight for Everyone”, “The Sober Scent of Paper”