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"Into The Murky Water"

The Leisure Society – Into The Murky Water
03 May 2011, 10:53 Written by Simon Tyers

You don’t get twice nominated for an Ivor Novello by fluke (alright, maybe you could for the awards connected to sales and airplay, but the point broadly stands) with two different tracks from the same album, and even if the respect of his fellow songwriters towards The Sleeper didn’t make Nick Hemming and his sprawling collective-within-a-Wilkommen Collective The Leisure Society into chart storming monsters it served to highlight his abilities with a lush folk-pop arrangement. Second album Into The Murky Water may give them a greater studio budget but despite a further swelling of numbers it doesn’t feel crowded out in production at all despite the weight of ambitious instrumentation, ideas and general style hopping in evidence.

Neither does it follow the money of the nu-folk scene. There may be joyous harmonies and collective crescendos in evidence, but around those instances are carefully pieced together moments that aim variously direct for the heart (‘Our Hearts Burn Like Damp Matches’) and on urgent occasion the feet (‘Dust On The Dancefloor’). Hemming and multi-instrumentalist co-conspirator Christian Hardy’s writing, far from short on interesting, almost adult pop melodies and lyrical ideas, now feels timeless, like they’ve been around for years, perhaps written by Paul McCartney – compare the learned grandiosity of ‘The Hungry Years’.

Adult-oriented pop sounds like a dirty phrase, redolent of a Smooth FM playlist, but in respect of this album it refers to deceptively simple melodies augmented with just the right amount of orchestral garnish inventively put together without recourse to overblown showiness. The opening title track eases in on a jazzy rhythm driven by a jaunty marimba and elegaic sweeps of strings, lazily unfolding into something that wouldn’t sound out of place in mid-70s Laurel Canyon taken to a ballroom recital. ‘This Phantom Life’ starts with a flute score that should be soundtracking a field of daffodils gently swaying in the breeze, then shifts into a guitar-led sway backed by Hammond organ and string stabs like a summer tinged Elbow, declaring “if we only knew the answers we could print them onto T-shirts”, eventually pivoting around a dramatic axis leading into one of those everybody-together builds towards the end.

More than anything Into The Murky Water is lyrically an optimistic album, informed through a history of let downs and associated melancholy passing and blossoming out into a certain level of good humour. It’s inherent in ‘The Hungry Years’ and its cleanly produced build into mini-grandiosity or the swaying waltz of ‘You Could Keep Me Talking’, replete with vocal breakdown amid plucked strings and insistent snare. When what sounds like an overdriven electric guitar barges in it’s as if they’ve introduced a rabid pack of wolves to the studio. Then again, self doubt is never far away. ‘I Shall Forever Remain An Amateur’, while sounding like the soundtrack to a late 1960s short film about a Mediterranean drive, is pretty openly inspired by Hemming’s experience – he was famously working in a fabric warehouse when ‘Last Of The Melting Snow’ earned its Novello nod – especially when, having changed tack and decided to build the song up again from more open hearted beginnings, Hemming and a gradually increasing group of voices decide “although I will try / I would rather be taking the reins than the wheel”.

Most insistent is the bounce and vim inherent throughout the album, simultaneously coming across as a group of intuitive musical friends jamming out porchlight folk and a disparately pastoral collection of precisely arranged songs where no woodwind or sweeping string section is out of place. It’s much to Hemming and his band’s immense credit that while worked out so carefully it still sounds like the spur of the moment former, better for the life experiences.


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